Thursday, February 18, 2016

Danger-Danger, Overachiever: 10 Reasons to Schedule Rest into Your Running Program

So you just ran a big deal race, huh? A race you focused on for half a year, invested countless (or specifically tracked) hours that ultimately exceeded 100-hours and that doesn't even count the amount of time you spent thinking, dreaming, talking about, having nightmares about this event. Maybe it's a day that you had your best performance (at that distance) ever?. Maybe it was a completely imperfect day where you knew had you had better "circumstances" you'd have run much faster. Either way, you find yourself inspired, hungry, excited to take on what is next, to keep this momentum moving forward.

Take a deep breath. You're not likely going to love what I have to say next... the most important thing you do in the next phase of training is recover from your hard effort. While I do not fully subscribe to this rule, a long-standing coaches saying in the realm of long distance running is:

"For every mile raced, take at least one day of recovery."

This means, generally speaking, that a 5k raced requires a few days, a 10k requires about a week, a half marathon merits 2 weeks of recovery and marathoners need about a month to bounce back before resuming normal training, long runs and hard/fast workouts. When it comes to ultra distance events, 50k is pretty similar to the marathon in terms of recovery (about a month), 50 milers and 100k's generally merit 5-6 weeks of recovery, and 100 miles often requires a solid 2 months for bounce back.

This is where the debate comes in: what defines "raced" vs just having "run" or even ran/walked/hiked/crawled a particular distance? That will largely depend on your base of years in experience, current training volume, and what physical condition you were in on race day (i.e. were you injured, or sick, or were the conditions of the race extreme, etc.) to create the total cumulative stress on your instrument (aka your body). These are all factors in determining when it is appropriate for your body to be ready to run hard (in workouts or another race) again.

Don't be this dude/lady... those fish impressed by his/her Strava
All of you hard working overachievers have anecdotal stories and evidence of athletes who have bucked these rules of thumb, and lord knows there are a tremendous number of training-idiots out there (one of my favorite nicknames for chronic over-trainers and over-racers is Hammerheads, taught to me by the founder of the Fluffy Bunnies Track Club, David Olds). Hell, I know a few knuckleheads that thought it'd be a good idea to run a series of 6 x 100 mile races with only 2 to 3 weeks of recovery in between them, that's 600 miles (of racing) in less than 3 months. Don't be like those guys. Not scheduling recovery weeks/months into your training season and training year is a little like playing Russian Roulette, it's a fun, adrenaline filled game until you finally pull the trigger and the chamber is loaded.

My first marathon (raced) was in October of 2002. I ran the Chicago Marathon and was 11+ minutes off of my A-goal (2:59), and only 12 seconds away from a Boston Marathon qualification (or BQ), needed 3:10:59, ran 3:11:11. I was super inspired and ready to sign up for an early December marathon (California Int'l). Here's the thing, simply running that December marathon may not have been an issue had I taken 3-4 weeks of recovery. Instead, I kept training hard because I had another race to "prepare for". That Russian Roulette chamber was loaded, and I went down hard with quadriceps tendonitis that took me out of running completely for 10 months (each one of those months is a reason not to overtrain, I'd have killed to have any one of those months back). November of 2002 to August of 2003, I was out of commission. Dejectedly attempted 3 painful runs in that 10 month span. I was not surprisingly depressed about the whole situation. When I finally started back running again in September of 2003, it took me another 15 months to train back up to where I was when I over-trained in the month following my first marathon. That's a 2 year "impatience penalty," a massive price to pay for the inspired athlete.

I have learned a lot of hard lessons in my life (and running career) so that maybe you (my reader, or my athlete) wouldn't have to. So for those of you ready to pull the trigger and sign up for that next race that's only a few weeks to a few months away, I urge you to be conservative with your distance, with your pace/effort, and work more on low-intensity cross training elements to allow your body to fully heal from the effort you just put forth. Especially those of you who ran hard road marathons, you're likely to feel fully recovered in about 14 days post, but your bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage are not gonna be there (ready for high impact, high intensity training) for another couple weeks after that. Patience is a huge key here. And knowing you're not going to lose much fitness in 3-4 weeks of taking it low key, but you will lose a ton of fitness if you are forced to take 6 months off due to a stress fracture or tendonitis or worse.

Every training year has it's season, which season are you in?
Every athlete who is serious about their racing, and serious about improving, should have 3-6 weeks off of serious training and hard/long running, 1 to 2 times per calendar year. If you ignore this, you're going to be physically or mentally burned out, and your running career will be but a flash in the pan.

Be proud of your race result! Be inspired and absolutely sign up for more races if you want to. Keep your habits and routines going. But always be mindful that training is like weather's seasons, we all need a Spring (early season base training), Summer (peak fitness training), Fall (racing season) and Winter (rest and recovery focused season)...

What season are you in? Don't allow over enthusiasm call the shots in the realm of rest and recovery, just the same as don't let feeling uninspired stop you from training when you need to keep the routine going. See you at the next race, in the next training program, or out on the trails in between...
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