How many adult, post-collegiate (recreational) runners avoid working with a coach because they don’t want to be told to make a long-term goal, some intermediate goals which support the long-term goal, and to (perhaps) not run so hard? During the past fifteen years of training, racing and coaching I’ve observed more athletes in need of restraint than in need of a kick in the behind.
Runners are not a patient lot; they want improvement, and they want it yesterday.
Outside of the need to plan and to train at the correct pace, I would consider the one last dirty little four-letter word, to “rest,” the quality which if all runners were to learn could put every running coach out of a job.
Professional athletes, when we look into their life, appear to have it made. Sure, they do. Many of them (in some sports) are paid obscene amounts of money to do the things we enjoyed doing as children. The 140-character social media feeds and videotaped “days in the life” are only a small pinhole view into what really occurs. Ask many endurance athletes what they are doing when not in the middle of a workout, and they are most likely to inform you they are recovering; doing what is necessary to repair the body by physio treatment, food, drink and rest. Naturally, we aren’t afforded that particular luxury.
Advice to the amateur recreational athlete is never “one-size-fits-all.” A good example is my two close friends, Steven and George. Adjust a few inches/pounds and we three are more or less at the same ability level. There the similarities end. My job is mentally-stressful but sedentary. Steven has less mental stress but more physical exertion; he walks a pool deck several hours daily. George is a maintenance man/pressure washer. He “lugs and slugs” all day, but his mental fatigue is low. After an eight-hour day we’ve endured varying levels of physical fatigue; this affects not only our ability to withstand stress on the run, but also how well we recover that evening…or the following days. That’s right. Days.
How much rest is necessary? There are some good “rules of thumb:”
First, eight hours of sleep daily is not only a good idea, it also can help to maintain weight. Whacked out sleep patterns increase the production of stress hormones which cause us to store fat rather than burn it. Second, if your training stress score for a workout exceeds 150 (say, a 60-minute workout at 65-percent of maximum heart rate, or a seven on a one-to-ten scale) it will take about a day to recover fully.
Third, if you are over 35 years old, it’s a good idea to take one day off from running each week. If your paycheck depends on physical labor you might plan your non-running rest days around days off. Desk jockeys have a little more latitude, as long as we make work less mentally stressful we can recover to a degree while sitting at our desk.
After races, the “day off for every hour, easy day for every mile-to-two kilometers” advice not only can save from burnout, but also unintended overuse injuries. (I guess all overuse injuries are unintentional.) I’ve only suffered iliotibial band inflammation syndrome or tendinitis on two occasions after a big race, both times because I returned to my usual running schedule WEEKS before my body was ready.
When I talk to runners about speed work I find many of them are guilty of running their repeats too fast or taking too little recovery time. For lactate threshold work (anywhere from 400 meters to 20 minutes in duration) the recovery times are brief; 30 seconds of walk/jog at the most for a 400-meter repeat, a minute or two of walk/jog for a mile. The VO2max work (400 meters to five minutes in duration) usually merits a 50-percent recovery period, anywhere from one to three minutes of walk/jog. Those hard 200-to-400 meter repeats to sharpen leading into the target races should be broken up by three to five minutes of recovery time.
When in doubt take a little more recovery time than you feel is necessary; just a little more.
Rest is not a four-letter word, and not strictly limited to that period of time when we’re not running every day, but also includes the “sip of coffee-like” recovery times which come in between the “bite” of repeat run pieces. Savor it. Enjoy it. Make the best use of it.