25 May The importance of being idle
With the first race of the NSRRA season over and the green shoots of spring on their way making running more appealing, it may seem strange that I’ve chosen to write about the important of rest in your training schedule.
However, I’m well aware that there are a lot of runners out there now in the thick of their marathon training, to whom the idea of rest has almost become a dirty word.
And for everybody else, yes rest is important for you too. So before you head out and give your body another pounding, first look at the facts about what is happening in your body when you kick off your trainers.
What happens when you rest
When you’re focusing on building endurance and speed, it’s easy to forget how important rest is. When you’re not running your muscles rebuild and repair themselves to become stronger. If recovery is insufficient, you’ll break down more muscle than you build up. Give your body a break and the muscles come back stronger than before.
It’s not hard to see the signs of overtraining. If you stop seeing positive gains in your training or your legs feel sluggish or especially sore, you’re overdoing it. Take at least one rest day per week and additional days as needed. While the amount of recovery time we need increases with age, everyone is different. The key to finding out how your body is doing is to take your resting pulse each morning before you get out of bed. If your morning heart rate is higher than this average, especially after a difficult run, you may not be fully recovered. Take another day off or just do an easy workout for the day until your heart rate returns to your baseline.
Stay strong by doing nothing
Taking a recovery day is also key to keeping illness free. Your immune system is depressed by endurance training, so taking a day’s rest each week may prevent longer lay-offs later. Joint health is another reason why runners need regular rest days. Running pounds the joints of the ankles, knees and hips with each and every stride. Allowing a few rest days during the week will give these joints the much needed break they need to prevent them becoming sore or inflamed. Keep going, and you could face a long lay off with overtraining injuries such as stress fractures and shin splints.
Instead of thinking of rest days as “empty” days, treat them as “recovery” days. How you spend them will depend on the volume and intensity of your training as well as your other commitments. For many runners, knowing a day off from training is approaching can be psychologically important when tackling a hard session, but inactivity is not your only option.
Light exercise can speed up recovery by increasing blood flow around the body, but you should stay in a low aerobic zone (around 60-70 per cent of your maximum heart rate). Choose a low-impact activity with different movements from running – cycling or swimming are excellent choices. Recovery sessions should be 20 to 30 minutes, but if you feel tired 10 minutes in, stop.
Keep it fun
Physical benefits of rest aside, don’t lose sight of the most important aspect of running – fun! Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel deflated and demotivated, especially immediately after a big race or training setback.
Running isn’t meant to be a stress producer, so consider leaving your watch at home, exploring new training routes or even taking a few consecutive rest days (or weeks) every once in a while. Chances are your body will thank you for it, both mentally and physically. What’s more, you’re likely to come back stronger and more determined than ever to take on your next challenge.