Taking a Break

Last week, I did no sport whatsoever. No running, swimming, spinning or gyming. Why? Quite simply because I’d burnt out. It’s hard for a runner to admit this, and at first, I didn’t like the idea of a week off sport. However, I can tell you now that I’m so grateful I did. Hopefully this post will encourage you to tune into your body’s messages and take one too if you need it!

What is “burnout”?

It can be physical and/or mental, and more often than not a combination of both. A variety of factors can cause it, ranging from overtraining, lack of sleep, monotonous/ repetitive training… You get the picture. Symptoms are also varied, the most common being a lack of motivation, persistent fatigue, a performance plateau, niggles and mood swings. There are also far more serious consequences, such as anaemia. Thankfully, if identified early enough, severe burnout cases can be avoided – and I’m hoping that’s what I’ve managed to do!

Image credits to Men’s Health
Runner’s denial

In my case, the signs had been there but, as most runners will do, I hoped that by ignoring them and ploughing on, they might go away. I’d gotten used to training whilst mentally & physically fatigued this semester due to university lifestyle (late nights, early starts, busy days). So it was easy for me to train through this persistent fatigue. However, when I picked up a calf niggle two weeks ago on my long run, warning lights started to flash in my mind. One awful training session later, I vowed to take a few days off running, substituting my runs for swims. 

Running definitely wasn’t making me this smiley anymore!
Making the connection

It was only when I was at home last weekend that I truly made the connection – with the help of my parents. I’d tentatively ventured out on a long run, and was elated during the first 2km when I felt no pain in my calf. Nevertheless, I knew something was wrong when for the remainder of my run I felt close to collapsing from physical & mental exhaustion. No matter how hard I pushed, my kilometre splits were getting slower and slower. Every step felt like running through treacle. Back home, I burst into tears and knew that I couldn’t carry on like that. The long run is usually my favourite session of the week, but I got no pleasure out of this one. Body, mind and parents were telling me one thing – it was time for a break.

Words of wisdom from the parents definitely helped!
Filling the time, fighting anxiety

With runners, taking a break is doubly difficult because, not only is running a passion, but it’s also a means of coping with stress and feeling good. The runner’s high is a true phenomenon that many of us (myself included) become addicted to. Without it, it’s easy to feel anxious and directionless. So what can you do to avoid this and fill the time?

 Spent lots of time cuddling this one in bed!
  1. Catch up on sleep! I stopped setting my alarm and averaged 10 hours sleep a night (2-3 hours more than usual)
  2. Get on top of (home)work – I got a bit (although admittedly not much) of much-needed revision done in preparation for my upcoming exam.
  3. Try something new – reading, drawing, painting, writing, baking… anything really, that will both take your mind off running and help relieve stress.
  4. Spend time in nature – you don’t have to run to be outside! I went on daily dog walks with my parents and really appreciated this time outside.
  5. Off-screen time – try not to fill your would-be training time with your phone/ social media. Especially if you’re using it to compare yourself to other runners!
The fear of losing fitness

I think this is the number one fear runners have when someone suggests taking a complete break from sport. In one week, the amount of fitness you lose will be negligible. Even after two weeks off, you won’t have lost much. When weighed up with the benefits of a break, it becomes insignificant. You should feel so much more motivated and energised once you’re back (I know I do!), and this will make training much more pleasurable. If anything, you’ll mentally gain more than what you physically lose – i.e. you’ll find it easier to push harder, because your love will be reignited. So try not to let this deter you from taking a break. 

Short-term pain, long-term gain

Before rounding off this post, I want to apply this statement to burnout and taking a break. Although taking a week off sport might seem mentally daunting and impossible, think of it as a precautionary measure. One week off now may prevent you from having to take one month (or more) off later due to a more serious injury. I want to leave you with this quote which I think has a really powerful message:

If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.

– unknown

That conclude’s this week’s blog post! I hope you found it useful and interesting, and please don’t hesitate to message me if you want to talk about anything further. I’m not an expert or qualified coach, but I can speak from personal experience!

Emma ♥♥