Start… Stop… Start… Stop. Something that I discuss with runners often is making runs continuous for the physiological & mental benefits. When reviewing running logs, we often see runners have breaks in longer runs lasting several minutes. Obviously traffic lights and the occasional bathroom break cannot always be avoided. However, when there are multiple stops prolonged stops during a run, it can cause a decrease benefit.
From a coaches perspective, taking breaks during a run is a part of the mental component of training. If you allow yourself to stop every time you are uncomfortable, then you are training your body to stop. Allowing the body to adapt both physically and mentally is an important part of a training plan. This is not something that is always easy to learn. Many runners don’t always talk about this openly! Just like learning anything new- We must teach the body to continue through & stop less.
This is especially important during long runs and workouts. Remember- the clock does not stop on race day. If you allow yourself to stop in a workout when it is tough, then you are making a mental pattern. In the future you are likely to repeat this pattern in times of distress. Our bodies learn patterns and have incredible muscle memory.
Even from a physiological stand point your body is missing key stress adaptations that are necessary during training for long races. A better alternative to prolonged breaks and stops during a long run or workout is to add walking segments as needed. There is an entire training program based on the run/walk method. It has been highly successful for many people and helped them to reach their goals. Jeff Galloway is a main proponent of this method. It can allow runners to run at a faster pace during the running segment and take walk breaks to bring the HR back down.
When training, the idea is to get your heart rate elevated to a sustained level for a select duration of time. This causes adaptations in the body including but not limited to:
1) increased heart size (the heart is a muscle)
2) increased blood volume (more plasma)
3) greater force of contraction (heart is more efficient)
4) more efficient oxygen transportation
Therefore, if you are not getting your HR into the optimal zone for an extended period of time during training, then you are missing the physiological benefits of training.
A great alternative to stopping is to set a goal time or distance that you will run and even if you slow down with your running pace, continue running until you reach that target, then take a short walking break. With this method you challenge your mental toughness, are able to get a very short break that will not lower your HR back down to resting, yet your body is still able to physiologically and mentally adapt for improved performance.
The key is to keep moving and give yourself opportunities to face mental challenges that you work through to build your mental toughness. Walking during a designated segment it will bring your HR down, but not as as rapidly as a standing rest break, and will lead to greater physiological benefits.. Walk for 30-60 seconds after hitting your target running segment. Then being to run again.
With all this being said, when running you have to make sure to take care of your health. If you feel woozy or lightheaded you should take a break. If you are running through an injury to finish the run, be sure to evaluate the cost and benefits of finishing verses stopping early to prevent additional injury.
If running were easy, everyone would do it…. right? Remember that taking rest breaks may hinder the physiological benefits of the run and may impact your performance on race day. Be smart about breaks during your run. It’s okay if you have to slow down, your body is still adapting and you are sharpening your mental toughness. There is a purpose with every run.