We all seem to be hitting a wall right now. For some of us, it's clear-cut pandemic fatigue. For others, it's the constant training without a break or goal. For some folks, old injuries are calling our names again, a natural result of the hiatus we've been forced to take from our non-critical providers, like trainers and massage therapists, or the inaccessibility of our usual cross-training strategies, like the gym. I doesn't so much matter WHY you need some downtime, just that you NEED the downtime.
So take the downtime.
But I might decondition if I stop! Actually, endurance holds. You won't decondition nearly so fast as you fear that you will. We need downtime for our bodies to adapt training stresses into long-term gains. This is why training programs have regular rest weeks; it's also why you taper for days or even weeks before a major endurance event. Problem is, most of us have been running without plans lately or without races to create natural culminations to our training and "justify" downtime. Rest and recovery are their own justification and you don't need an event to trigger this kind of self-care. Take a week off, clear the cobwebs, and come back faster, stronger and more motivated because of it.
I already took time off and it didn't help. Let's evaluate the time you took off. Did you replace a tough running schedule with a tough nordic ski schedule? Or throw yourself into a conditioning program that left you tired and sore? You took time off running, but you didn't give your body a complete rest. Are there changes that you can commit to that would make a down week more restful? Even something with as nurturing a reputation as yoga can be a significant challenge to some bodies--don't take on this kind of work during a rest week.
Think about the mental and emotional quality of your time off, too. We can reduce our physical stresses without the same reduction in mental and emotional stresses. If you didn't get that downtime for your mind and spirit, your body may not feel sufficiently recovered nor may your motivation return. Is there something you can add or subtract from your next taper that would better help you to clear your head?
I get antsy during rest weeks. Once we've made a commitment to our running schedules, we feel like something is missing when we step back from that intensity. When we taper for an event, we at least have something to look forward to and some logistical work to take up some of that energy. Try to apply that to a rest week! Is there a local running adventure you'd like to take? Spend some time planning a new local route or a COVID-safe spring adventure; using your rest week this way can really connect you back to the joy and adventure that got you running in the first place.
And here's another idea: is there something that has 100% NOTHING to do with running that you've wanted to immerse yourself in? A knitting project waiting to be finished? All of Mary Berry's cake recipes from British Bake-off? The book everyone has recommended to you? Give yourself the time and space to do that and fill your brain with other things that make you whole.
A recurring injury is forcing me to take time off. It's hard to keep your spirits up in this circumstance, but you don't have to be passive because you are not running. This is your opportunity to invest your running time into rehab time. What cross-training strategies help this injury? Has a PT ever recommended a care or prevention routine? Should you connect with a provider over tele-health? Injuries are an interesting case because time off doesn't correlate perfectly to recovery--we have to put in some work in order to rehab our bodies and be able to run again, but be sure to take the time off running that your injury demands.
It is so hard to stay motivated right now. Even with the return of some races, not everyone is ready to rejoin the world of events. This leaves us training without the vision and structure that can keep us motivated and balanced. If you're burning out, take at least a week off and reevaluate. We're asking so much of ourselves right now; if running is too much, just press pause.