The Importance of Rest in Training

Miles were back up this week, and after a week of rest, I felt great for most of the week.  I’m so guilty of wanting to skip the rest part of recovery, but it always catches up to me.  It’s a huge mistake to discount the importance of rest in training, but it can take some practice (and sometimes bad experiences) to learn how to listen to your body and respect its need for down time.  Last week, I listened and gave my body an extra rest day, and this week I felt so much more motivated to push with training.

This is the last month before my 100k ultramarathon, and I know the last push can be a grind.  So I need to balance the need to push through with the need to recover.  It’s definitely not easy, but I’m doing my best and trying to be flexible.  My mileage this week looks a little higher than it really should, since I had to move my long run from Saturday to Sunday.  This was a full week of work, training, and family stuff, so all the extra rest from last week came in handy!

We didn’t have anything too exciting going on during the week. The kiddo went back to school, and I have been very grateful to have some regular, quiet hours during the day. We did manage to start getting up some Christmas lights on the outside of the house, and I have to say that I don’t hate seeing them popping up on my early morning runs. I also had a chiropractor appointment on Monday; hoping to keep everything in good working order before the race.

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I got in two solid workouts this week.  On Wednesday, I programmed seven 5 minute faster intervals, with one minute of recovery.  It was tough, and with the higher mileage, the workouts always feel harder.  On Saturday, I met a group for my long run at the powerlines.  The powerlines are the best place to get in practice on steep, rocky climbs.  But they sure are tough work on the legs!  After my long run, we grilled with some friends who have a son close to Enrique’s age.  Grilled fajita’s and bundtini’s were the perfect way to end the week.

The Importance of Rest in Training

Rest and recovery are often considered synonymous when it comes to endurance training, but they are definitely different pieces of the training pie.  Recovery can be active, and integrated into training itself (like foam rolling after a hard workout).  Rest on the other hand, is a completely different animal, and it requires its own time.  The importance of rest in training can’t be over emphasized, though it can be really difficult to value if you’re someone who actually enjoys the active parts of training.  Here’s exactly why rest needs to be prioritized, and how to do so.

Why We Need Rest

There’s a whole cycle to training. You stress your body, create micro-trauma in the muscles when you break them down, and then allow your body to rebuild, which produces increased strength and aerobic capacity. But that third step in there, the rebuilding part, requires two things in order for it happen efficiently. The first is adequate fueling, so don’t be an idiot and skip brunch. The second is rest. Rest is the time that allows your body to rebuild, and without it, all that work doesn’t add up to the results you’re probably wanting.

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Comfy couches help

Can your body rebuild without adequate rest?  Yes.  And no.  The body is resilient, and it will learn to rebuild even under sub-optimal circumstances.  But the process can take a lot longer, and the gains can be substantially reduced.  If you’re setting your alarm for 4:45am on Saturdays to get in a long run, it sure as heck better pay off.  And if you want to get as much out of training as you can, you can’t skip the rest.

What Happens When We Don’t Rest

Well, there’s a number of not so great things that happen when we don’t get enough rest.  If you’re like me, one of the first symptoms of needing a rest day is being really cranky.  My baseline tends to be slightly more prickly than the average person, but if I am real crabby it probably means I need a snack and some sleep.  Besides being moody, not getting enough rest can result in prolonged muscle soreness, decreased athletic performance, fatigue, injury, and even over-training syndrome.  All things that are generally the opposite of what athletes want.

And honestly, if sleeping in on a Tuesday gives you better athletic performance than working out for the 7th day in a row, is it really a difficult choice?

Related Post: Managing Fatigue in Endurance Training

Quick Tips

But rest isn’t something that should become some sort of stressful component of training.  Generally, most of us probably get fairly close to adequate rest, especially if we don’t have small children interrupting our sleep.  If you have some concerns about whether or not you’re getting enough rest, or having a hard time incorporating healthy rest habits, here’s a few tips to help you out.

Have at least one full rest day – Every single week.  There should never be a week that goes by without one day of rest, unless there is a reason you are willing to forgo the benefits.  For example, I ran a 100 mile week to raise money for National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.  This is what I would call a training anomaly.  Outside of these one-off situations, you should make sure that at least one day of your week does not include any sort of strenuous workout.

Listen to your body during rest periods – Some weeks, your body may be less stressed or taxed than other weeks.  You might feel motivated to something physically active that isn’t stressful, like hiking or kayaking.  Other weeks, your rest day might be spent in the throws of a full on Netflix binge.  If your body wants nothing more than to lay under the covers, and that’s something you can afford, listen to it.  But if you’re feeling restless and bored, don’t be afraid to get outside for a couple of hours.  Learning to listen to your body is equally as important as all the other aspects of training.

Program deload weeks – Every couple of weeks, your training volume and intensity should be reduced.  This reduction in training, coupled with regular rest days will allow your body to recover and rebuild.  If you’re feeling more fatigued than usual, consider adding in an extra rest day during your deload week.

Recognize the warning signs – Over the ears, I’ve heard many runners lament that there were red flags they ignored before they found themselves injured or complete burnt out.  Things like struggling to get out of bed for weeks on end, having appetite or sleep disturbances, feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious about their training (instead of mostly enjoying it), and feeling sore all the time.  In addition to being cranky, if you notice these signs, it’s a good time to evaluate your training and lifestyle. 

Is work more stressful or difficult than usual?  Are you going through a tough personal situation or loss?  Are there other things outside of training that have made life feel more difficult?  Or are you just training really hard for prolonged periods of time?  If you’re seeing the warning signs, and you can identify that your body is signaling that you need a little more rest, don’t ignore it.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot better to have one too many rest days than one too few.

So what do you do to make sure you’re getting adequate rest?

This Weeks Workouts

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Total Miles: 82
Total Workouts: 4
100k Training, Week 5
How the Runs Felt
Back to one rest day for me this week, so last week’s extra rest was much appreciated. I had two long runs this week at the powerlines on Sunday and Saturday. On Sunday, I got just under 2,000 feet of elevation over 18 miles and on Saturday I ended with just under 2,400 feet of elevation over 22 miles. I’m hoping that mixing in some climbing with my long runs will give me the endurance that I’m going to need to finish out this 100k in the hill country. I was on the roads for Monday and Wednesday’s runs, and on the trails at the nature preserve Wednesday and Friday.

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I added in a couple of road miles on Wednesday and Friday just to increase my weekly mileage.  The mix of road and trail miles has helped me keep my mileage up, without demanding too much more time.  My legs also seem to hold up better when there’s a mix of surfaces.  I’m hoping the weather keeps holding up for me over the next couple of weeks so that I don’t have to shift my long runs during this last month of training, but weather definitely not predictable this time of year.  So I’ll have to be as flexible as possible.

How the WODs Felt
I started out the week with a home workout, since my chiropractor appointment conflicted with my typical workout time.  Last week all of my workouts were in the box, so I made sure to get in some stair repeats during my home workout this week.  Wednesdays workout had bar muscle ups programmed, and it has been probably close to a year since I have worked on getting over the bar.  I had to use a heavier band, but I was happy that I haven’t completely lost my form.  Overall, I’m feeling stronger and getting more comfortable with a lot of the movements that I wasn’t doing regularly when I was working out in the gym.

What I’ve Been Listening To
I’m still listening to episodes of Do No Harm as they are being released.  The story is so frustrating to hear, and it keeps the listener wondering how on Earth these events ever happen.  I’ve been listening to most of my favorites this week; Run Hard Mom Hard, The First Degree, and Crime Junkie.  Seems like it might be time to find a new series to binge soon!

What Went Well
My feet have been great this week, and I’m beyond happy about that.  I’ve also been fueling well throughout the week, and my stomach felt much better during my long runs this week.  Here’s hoping that my 100k stomach is stronger than my 50 mile stomach was.

What Went Shitty
I haven’t done a great job of stretching this week, and I’ve been sitting in front of my work laptop this week.  Which means that my hip flexors have been substantially tighter than they need to be.

Plans to Improve Next Week
Next week, I need to make it a priority to stretch and not spend more than a couple of hours sitting without getting up.

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