The importance of rest and recovery

Feeling the affects of a full on training schedule? Taking a rest will do you the power of good and will benefit your running fitness says running coach Tom Craggs.

The importance of rest and recovery

The mind games of the tired runner! Most runners will be familiar with that feeling of being extra tired. Maybe your legs feel heavier than usual, or you wake up every day feeling like you could do with a few more hours sleep. This is where the dilemma begins. Should you listen to your body and apply common sense, or hang on to your schedule and go for that run?

We have all been there and agonised over similar scenarios. Perhaps you have a key race coming up, or you’ve just got your routine back and feel bad for breaking it. Having a plan and structure in place is important, but it can also hang around your neck like a lead weight if you badly need a rest.

It’s normal to have days when you are too busy, need to spend quality time with friends and family or just feel worn out. This type of tiredness can often creep up on you unexpectedly. If you step back and review your training, there may be signs that exhaustion has built up over time. Rest and recovery is one of the cornerstones of performance and it’s vital to balance your energy levels with your training and nutrition.

Why is rest so important?

Your body actually gets fitter when you rest and recover, not when you train. The healing of your muscles and rebuilding of energy stores and your adrenal system results in you getting fitter and stronger as you rest. Most of us have busy work, family and social lives.

Where a professional athlete may be able to get some extra sleep and recover during the day, most of us don’t have that luxury. But ignoring the gradual build-up of fatigue can result in a plateau in performance, a loss of motivation and even injury.

What are the warning signs?

  • Your morning resting heart rate is up by 5-10 beats.
  • On the run your muscles feel extra sore or tight and this is sustained over a period of days.
  • You have missed sleep or just feel overtired from accumulated training.
  • You’re finding it harder to hit paces that a few weeks ago felt more comfortable, but you have been training just as hard, if not harder.
  • You find your motivation for training plunging or you are regularly irritable with family, work colleagues or friends.
  • You’re craving more food, especially sugary foods that give you a quick energy hit

What should I do?

In short, take more rest days. Don’t go down with the ship. If you answered yes to any of the above, let go and drop that run. Factor in an extra rest day on a weekly basis if you feel you need to.

A training plan is just a guide – your life, your energy levels and the demands on your time will be different from the next runner. We recommend all runners take at least one full rest day each, but some of you will require more.

Periodise you rest

Weekly rest is important but we would also suggest cutting back your training loads every 3-4 weeks. Reduce some of the volume and cutting back on some of the big sessions by 30 per cent, to allow your body to absorb that block of training from the previous few weeks. This way you can step up again and progress your training in a planned and managed way.

Post-race recovery

Most runners come back too soon after a key goal race, especially a bigger race such as a half or full marathon. Running 26.2 miles is a really big hit for your body and even the elite runners we coach will be taking a minimum of a full week off, but most of them take two weeks off.

We often see other runners, perhaps more for mental than physical reasons, jumping straight back into running a day or two after a big race. Listen to your body, back off and take two weeks’ rest. I will leave you stronger, fitter and less injury prone.

At the very least, change the run to a recovery run or swap for a light cross training session instead.

Go to bed

Crucial growth hormones are released in the deep sleep phase of your sleep. If you are regularly getting less than 7-8 hours you will not be recovering as well as you should be.

Banish smartphones, laptops and iPads from the bedroom, try to avoid eating ate at night or training alcohol or caffeine in the evening after harder training sessions and aim to be in bed 15-30 minutes earlier than usual.

Sensible decisions will result in less colds and a reduction in injuries. Our bodies really do tell us all we need to know and any training schedule is just a guide, not a tablet of stone. So the next time you feel really tired, take an extra day off or push that hard session back by 24 hours and your fitness will reap the rewards.