Rest IS Training

Sometimes I think we get too focused on GO GO GO, PUSH PUSH PUSH, and forget that we need to step back and let our bodies absorb and recover.  In the endurance world there are a lot of different personalities, but many of us are highly motivated, ‘Type A’, type personalities that feel better when we are going, who enjoy pushing ourselves, and don’t just sit and be still very often.  I definitely fall into this camp.

If you are like  me, and find rest to be hard, take note of some of my suggestions below as to how and why we need to step our training back once in a while.

How Often?

This is a personal thing, and something that I think it’s good to be adaptive on as it really depends on your body and your training.  I do think that there should be a maximum amount of time that you’ll go before you take a cut-back week in your training.  For me this limit is 4 weeks, maximum.  More often it’s less than that, and it’s changed over the years.

A lot of marathon training plans have a cutback week every 3 weeks.  I found when I was first training for marathons, and first running peak weeks of 80 km’s per week (50 mpw), that this was not often enough for me.  During my first successful marathon cycle (aka, the first one I did not get injured during), I was cutting back every other week, so I had one week at 80 km’s, the next at 50, one at 80, then 50 again.  This is important: don’t fall into the trap of being a slave to a schedule, just because the schedule says you should be able to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for your body.  If your body needs more rest, then your race will be better if you rest more.

Why?

Because running less can actually help you to run faster.  All the hard workouts that we are doing, are great, they challenge us, and should make us stronger, but they do that by breaking us down, by doing damage.  We are damaging our muscles during these workouts, and our bodies require time to repair that damage, and come back stronger.  During higher volume weeks, we take easy days for this very reason, the easy days help to bring recovery, but after a week or three at higher volume, it’s also important to take a focused week of recovery.

I was at a talk recently where a local ultra runner, Dave, was talking about Brain Training for runners.  One of the analogies that he used really struck me.  He talked about our training being like blowing up a balloon.  If we take a new balloon and try to blow it up too large right away, it will burst.  If you take that same balloon and blow it up a bit, then let the air out, then blow it up again, let it out and blow it up yet again, and keep repeating this progress, you stretch the balloon out.  Each time, it has a higher capacity and is able to get larger and larger without bursting.  Our bodies are the same, if we keep pushing and pushing without recovery, they will burst, or rebel and we’ll be forced to a standstill.  If we push a bit, and pull back, then push again, and keep repeating this, then we’ll be able to push them to a much higher level and we will get better results in the end.

How should my week look?

I like to cut mileage to around 2/3rds of what I’ve been running, but also don’t hesitate to cut a bit more.  I think that when it comes to recovery less is more.  For example, my last month has had mileages of 80, 90, 91 and 101 km’s.  This past week I took a recovery week that was a total of 63 km’s.  That’s about 70% of 90 km’s.  I also took it easy on the quality or speed during the week.  I did two runs that I would consider slightly harder than easy efforts, both those runs were Cadence runs, so I was trying to run easy but at a higher cadence.  My natural Cadence falls around 170, so when I run at 180 my Heart Rate goes up, as does my pace, so it’s not exactly in my ‘Easy’ zone, but it’s also not Tempo or Speed work.  I also scheduled a massage last week.  I felt like it would be a good week to get a nice deep massage and go into the next big week with looser muscles and less tension.

What should I do with my time?

Because I’m always busy, and thrive on it, when I get in a week where I’m running less, I’m sometimes thinking “what am I going to do with all this time?” Which is crazy, I know it.  But I’m embracing the crazy, so here are some ideas:

  • Clean my house.  Ha, funny, I know, but I do slack on this when I’m running so much, so it’s good to have a few extra minutes in the day to get to those jobs that get missed.
  • Sleep more.  It’s pretty exciting when I don’t have to be up before 5am.  Sleep is one of the times when  your body works hard to repair damaged tissue, so it’s good to sleep more when  you have time.
  • Eat more.  This one is pretty funny too.  I was just chatting with some marathon mom friends, and it was unanimous, when we run less, we are more hungry.  Food also helps our bodies heal, so it’s good to eat more, healthy nutritious food.

What's the best way to finish an awesome trail run in the mountains? Car beers, and pizza! (Or cake for Robert)

A post shared by Terry Toffelmire (@terryruns) on

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9 thoughts on “Rest IS Training

  1. Great to see a blog on the importance of rest! The same applies in recovering from being sick. You can’t go back to what you were doing in one step. If you’re carrying stress from your work or family life it will affect training and recovery, likely taking longer.

    I find after a massage my run goes to crap for a couple of days. I’m not sure why, but I think carrying tension is a good thing for running, to a point. Too much tension and you’ll break something.

    1. I think massage is a bit like a hard workout. It damaged the muscle fibers. But hopefully they heal stronger afterwards. And yes tension is good but the hard part is keeping it balanced and even between sides.

  2. I just had a massage the other day as my hip/si joint are bothering me. So worth every penny. It helped immediately. I take my rest days but also listen to my body when I really need to (more sleep, a 2nd rest day or switching the type of exercise).

  3. Great post. I love sleeping and I am not a slave to any training plan. I cut back when my body dictates (most recently because I am sick). My workouts are not in that “hard” category yet as I am slowly building my endurance again.

    I do lots of cleaning too when I don’t run!

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