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What happens when you take a month off from running?

Read what happened to Mark Remy when he took a month off from running! Not much!!


Hey! Have you ever wondered what happens when a runner stops running for a full month?

Here’s what happened during my month off, and what didn’t.I’ll tell you what happens: Not a hell of a lot.
-Mark Remy

I can say this with some conviction, because today for me marks one month of not running. Four weeks of nothin’. Unless you count the time a few weeks ago that I set out with my 4-year-old daughter in the jogging stroller, got about 100 meters down the street, said, “OK, nope,” and walked right back home. And I do not count that time.

My month off began with a long trail run on Sunday, September 7, which was fantastic except for the part that wasn’t. Readers, I fell. It was one of those falls that’s gravity-assisted, and happens when you’re moving along pretty good in the first place, and leaves various bits of your skin behind. As shown here:

“I’m fine!” I said immediately on impact, springing back up like a circus tumbler. “Ha ha!” I wasn’t, of course, and the pain under my kneecap went from “Hmm, pain under my kneecap” to “[expletive]!” in a matter of days. After taking a week off, then two, I figured, hey, as long as I’m doing this, why not make it a cool 30 days?

So I did. I gave myself just two rules: 1. No running; and 2. No whining about no running.

I’ve written before about “taking a vacation from running,” about “hitting the reset button” by taking a few days off. But this time would be different. No more half-measures. (A few days off? Please!) This time would be a full system flush. A hard reset. I would lose all data, restore my factory settings.

ARE YOU SURE? I would ask myself, before committing. YES or CANCEL.

YES. I was sure. It would be an interesting experiment. Here’s what happened during my month off, and what didn’t.

1. The Sky Did Not Fall

During my month off, I woke up every morning, went about my business, and was by all accounts OK. At no point did I hear a loud “whoosh” as my fitness was sucked out of my body. No question I lost some speed, strength, and endurance. Maybe a lot. But so what? I’ll get it back. I know where to find it.

2. I Did Really Enjoy Not Having to Run

There. I said it.

Right away I discovered that I was enjoying my Saturdays more, knowing that the only thing I’d have to do the next morning was wake up, have coffee, make pancakes, and play with the kids. And I was enjoying my Sundays more, because, well, see above. This enjoyment did not diminish over time. Gradually I came to realize that running, for me, at least some of the time, had morphed from a friendly chum coaxing me out the door to a shrill nag, reminding me every 15 minutes that I “had to” run today, or if not today then definitely tomorrow. Being able to mute that harping – for a month! – made me happy. At first I felt guilty for feeling this way. Which itself is sort of messed up. But soon the guilt lifted, and all that remained was happiness.

3. I Did Not Gain 85 Pounds

I’m not the sort of person who runs to lose weight or even to maintain it. (I’m naturally on the lanky side.) Still, I thought it worth mentioning that I didn’t wind up looking like this by the end of my month off. For what it’s worth.

4. I Did Think a Lot About “Exercise” vs. “Being Active”

Even though I wasn’t exercising, per se, during my month off, I kept catching myself trying. At my workbench, sawing a bit faster than I had any reason to, and working up a sweat as I realized my breathing had found a familiar rhythm. Hanging out with the kids at the playground, and doing pullups. (I never do pullups.) Bounding back up our steep driveway after wheeling the recycling cart to the street. Riding my bike to the supermarket, determined to “catch” the bike a block in front of me. All of it, I think, was my body’s way of trying to correct an imbalance. A plant bends toward light; an active body bends toward activity.

5. I Did Not Think As Straight As I’d Have Liked

This one was weird. I found myself wanting more sleep, and waking up from the sleep I was getting feeling foggier than usual. Often this fog would linger. It was harder for me to focus, to think. And I found myself more impatient and irritable than usual. (My wife can vouch for this.) It was not good.

Eventually it occurred to me that my sudden lack of running was to blame, at least partly. I knew running helped keep me on an even keel. I didn’t know to what extent, until these past few weeks.

6. I Did, Ultimately, Miss Running When It Wasn’t There

Which sounds like cheap greeting card sentimentality, but it’s true. It’s funny how, over time, running can come to seem like its own entity – like a friend. It’s there with you through good times and rotten ones, sickness and health, helping you get by and sort out your problems. Sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate its guts, but you always stick together, and are stronger for it. And of course you begin to take it for granted until it isn’t there anymore. Hanging up my running shoes really did get to feel like not having an old friend in my life anymore.

In sum: Taking a month off from running was wonderful. And terrible. And illuminating.

Oh, I almost forgot: My knee feels like new. Which is good, because I have a date tomorrow with an old friend.

See you on the trail.

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