If some is good, more must be better right?
I’ve made a bit of a change to my daily routine lately, and it’s paying some pretty solid dividends for my productivity in the office.
The changes have been fairly simple and straight forward: I’m taking more breaks.
And that got me wondering if taking more breaks might help us runners as well…
The Value of the Break
When it comes to my work life, my biggest issue is having so much to do and not having the time to do it all.
As such, I’ve really struggled with intentionally taking some down time on regular basis.
No breaks in the day. No days off per week. And certainly no vacations where I really just unplug.
But my mentor has been hammering the value of taking a break into my head for years.
And the science is sound.
Taking short breaks throughout the day helps you stay focused and alert. The breaks actually help you be more productive.
Regular days off per week and downtime throughout the year have similar value.
But I’ve always resisted.
Even though I know the science and trust my mentor, I have struggled with the idea that working less will help me get more done on a regular basis.
But a funny thing has happened since I’ve finally given in and taken a few more breaks throughout the day: I’ve gotten much more productive.
Taking Breaks in Your Running
So what am I trying to say here?
Am I recommending that all of us adopt a run/walk style of training and racing?
To be clear, I have no issues with run/walk.
And I’m not under the false impression that you can’t have fast race times while run/walking, because you absolutely can.
What I am at least suggesting is that many of us, myself included, may benefit from a few more breaks in our running lives.
Taking breaks not only allows us to refresh physically, but mentally as well.
And those mental breaks are often more important than the physical breaks.
Why? Because mental fatigue limits our performance as much, if not more, than physical fatigue.
And the best way to refresh the mind is by taking a break.
So what does that look like for us as runners?
It can look like pretty much whatever we want it to look like.
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Taking Breaks on Race Day
When it comes to race day, the idea of adding in breaks may sound like a non-starter at first.
Please, don’t just dismiss the idea out of hand.
Because there are several ways to incorporate breaks on race day that will help you stay both mentally and physically strong from start to finish.
Scheduled Walk Breaks
This is probably the most obvious option, so we may as well address it first.
Incorporating regular walk breaks into your race strategy can take on a number of looks.
So if you’re not too keen of something like a 1 minute run, 1 minute walk pattern you can still do planned walk breaks.
Walking during the water stops is a great way to not only give your mind a quick break, but it also helps reduce the odds of you choking on your water/Gatorade.
You can also plan to walk every mile. Or every two miles. Or at the half way point.
The key here is that you can still run the vast majority of your race.
But taking a few seconds (or even a few minutes) to allow your brain to click off can be the difference between fading at the end and finishing the race strong.
Other Race Day Options
Beyond taking a few walk breaks during a race, how else can you introduce ways to help keep yourself mentally sharp?
One thing that has really helped me is setting my watch so that I’m not getting specific pace or HR data while I’m racing.
The only data I’m getting from my watch is distance and total time, nothing more.
So instead of worrying about my pace and my splits, and trying to do a lot of mental gymnastics to figure what pace I need to run over the remaining miles to hit my goal, I just run.
I’ll worry about pace and HR in training, but not on race day.
Another thing that I feel has helped me stay mentally sharp is what I put in my ears during a race.
Or, more aptly, what I don’t put in my ears.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books when I’m training.
But without question, when I’m listening to a book or a podcast I’m splitting my mental energy between the information I’m taking in and the task on hand.
On race day?
No audio book. No podcast.
I’ve gotten into the habit of running the first 18-20 miles of a marathon without any type of audio stimulation at all.
I’ll talk to other runners. Listen to my breathing. Enjoy the sounds of the environment.
Then, when it’s go time, I put some music on, turn my brain off, and get after it.
Not sure the neuroscience behind it, but I feel like going from ambient noise to familiar music at the end of the race really helps me lock in my mental focus and enables me to finish strong.
Taking Breaks Beyond Race Day
There is no doubt in my mind that finding some ways to take little breaks on race day to keep your mind sharp is vital to your performance on race day, we shouldn’t overlook amount of mental fatigue that can build up when you are training consistently for weeks/months/years on end.
You probably know where I stand on run streaks.
Taking a regular day off has always been a key for me both mentally and physically.
But if streaking works for you? By all means, keep on keeping on.
That said, just because streaking seems to be working for you, you might find that a day off here and there would actually work even better for you.
Taking a day or two (or an entire month!) off is certainly one way to incorporate some breaks into your training cycle, but it’s not the only way.
Change the time of day that you run. Swap out the road for the trail, or vice versa. Spend more time cross-training.
All of those ideas can give your body and your mind a break from the monotony of training.
And the likely result is that when it’s time to get focused on your training in preparation for your next goal race, you’ll be refreshed and ready to really get after it!
How Willing are You to Take a Break in Your Training, or on Race Day, to Refresh Your Mind and/or Body?
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