stepping back

Every now in then, in running and in life, it’s good to take a step back.  Not really just “good” actually — essential.  To reflect.  To heal.  Te refill your cup, so to speak.  To gain strength for the next steps forward.  I am always amazed and uplifted by how much my connection to running parallels how I feel about life.  Growth is a process and it involves moments where you either feel like you’re set back unwillingly (injuries or wounds or losses or illnesses, or things just not going the way you planned or hoped they would goshdarnit!), or you purposely take a step back to slow things down so that you can keep moving forward with passion and joy and presence.

As far as my running goes, I really try to take those purposeful steps back so that I can keep moving forward, even when I am feeling really good.  Sometimes these step backs are as simple as a recovery run or a rest day, or a whole week where I step away from my strength training routine, or a week or even a couple of months (between training cycles usually) where I reduce the intensity and/or volume of my miles and just run for fun and the sheer joy of it.

During a marathon training cycle I always take at least one rest day a week – off from all forms of exercise – and every 3-4 weeks I reduce my mileage and the intensity of my running so that I can recover on a bigger scale and stay strong for the training cycle.  I call these weeks my “step back weeks” and really try to not only embrace the additional rest from a physical perspective but also to reflect internally on how things are going, where my head is and where my heart is.  It’s a way to avoid injury as well as mental burnout.  When things are going extremely well in my training like they are now I sometimes have teeny moments where I consider NOT taking them because my body, mind and heart feel so good, but I know better and choose to stick to my own rules and trust that even when I’m feeling good these steps back and short periods of rest have a lot of purpose and will keep me healthy and strong and more energized for the road ahead.  I would much rather take a step back when I am feeling good than have to take one because I ran my body into the ground, after all!

This week is my first step back week in the last month.  Typically I build my mileage for three weeks, and then I step back for one week before building it back again.  The last three weeks were intense and awesome!  I ran three consecutive weeks of sky-high (for me) mileage (81 miles, 84 miles and then 90 miles) with 2 hard days (one quality track workout and one long run per week), one rest day and then easy/recovery running in between making those numbers add up – honoring the purpose of each and every run.  My body has been handling the mileage and the workload very well.  Last week my 90 mile week was topped off with my fastest long run ever – 21 miles at a 7:23 average – run with negative splits and feeling so strong the whole way through.  I came off that week with a major gratitude-filled “WOW” feeling.  I have spent the last few days since that run just hanging on to that feeling and trusting in the purpose of this step back week.

So what does a step back week look like for me?  This week has been mostly easy running with reduced mileage (I am taking my mileage back down to 70 miles this week) and today I went out for a run and threw in some tempo paced miles rather than doing a hard track workout this week.  My long run this weekend will be back down to 16 miles and I am still taking just one rest day this week.  I can tell that my body is appreciating the rest and I feel excited for the next build in my cycle so I know that my mind and spirit are benefiting from this break, too.  My race is still two months away so there is a lot of work to be done down the road and I want to feel fresh and strong and healthy for it!

Do you take step back weeks in your training cycles?  What do they look like for you?

6 thoughts on “stepping back

  1. I'm laughing at your “step back” . Ha! But , I know, it is all personal and this is a step back for you. And I agree, step backs are so important. A step back for me right now means a big step back. I'm really just trying to allow myself to be where I am and sometimes (more often than not right now), it might mean just taking time off completely or walking instead of running. I'm taking small and easy steps here in life and with running as I give myself the space to go again when ready. This time around, my step back is just lasting a bit longer than usual. Great post Jessica. Love seeing your life unfold. YOu're an inspiration.

  2. I take step back weeks every 3-4 weeks- you miles are so high! Pretty awesome you can run that high mileage without getting injured. I think the step back weeks help reset both physically and emotionally. Nice work!

  3. Absolutely! Although lately, my step-back weeks have been because of my insane triathlon schedule, although I do think racing a tri for just over an hour is a step back from an 18 mile run! And every now and then my calf reminds me I need to step back! I can't believe your mileage – I've never gotten that high!

  4. When I get into full training cycle I take a step back week about every 3 weeks when in full training. Since I won't be running my next marathon until May of next year, right now I don't really have a step back week. If you don't mind sharing, how much weight training do you do while you are marathon training?

  5. I always love reading your posts and this one is no exception! I am currently taking a forced step-back due to injury and I can't wait for that first glorious (and extremely short!!) run that awaits me on October 1st! Sometimes, injury step backs are good for the soul in that they allow us to remember why we love this sport so much and what we are missing when we can't run. (They also allow for some extra time with my family, which is always a good thing.)

    As for step back weeks in training, I agree that sometimes they are hard to take simply because I am feeling so good/fit/strong and anxious to build upon that feeling. But they are so necessary.

    You are an inspiration!!

  6. I want my diet to be better, certainly, but some days that just isn't achievable. The supplements helps pick up the slack. Note that it's not a replacement for a good diet though. Supplements helps, but diet is a must.

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