by Dick Vincent
That’s right, after the work the rest is easy, but it is also easier said than done. It is hard to convince the avid runner, that easy days (let alone recovery days), are in their best interest. We grind through workouts, running in lousy weather, enduring head colds, sore muscles, and overall fatigue, making sure we are abiding by the venerated schedule. Suddenly, we have a fever or a sore Achilles. We have all seen it; we have all done it.
How much work is too much? How much rest does it take to create a slacker? The latter thought sends the most intelligent runners limping out the door for some extra miles. Often it sends them spinning their wheels and literally wasting their time and resources.
Distance runners are tenacious by nature and that tenacity is often our undoing. We push harder than we should, not recovering enough before mashing once more. Hard workouts tax the system and easy days allow us to recover and come back stronger. And this is where most of us shoot ourselves in the foot. We are so willing to go out and hammer the hard workouts, but too impatient to allow for proper recovery. When we don’t recover properly, we aren’t as strong for our next workout.
It should be a goal of every runner to approach their hard workouts as rested as possible. The more rested a runner is, the better chance they have of being able to run the workout at proper pace, to complete the workout, and recover again. Going into a workout tired not only reduces the training effect, it slows recovery because you leave the workout over tired requiring too much recovery time before the next intense workout. Often the mistake is compounded when sub par workouts tempt the runner to charge into their next key workout too soon, attacking it too hard, leading to another sub par training effort. And so the downward spiral begins.
Allowing yourself proper recovery you can maximize your efforts on your hard days. By maximizing your efforts doesn’t mean you should run the workout as hard as you can. It means that you can run the workout as close as possible to the prescribed pace. Running the workout too hard is subject to diminishing returns in gaining extra fitness. Working extra hard often negates any real gain because the body can’t adapt when overloaded excessively. To compound the problem, when you work too hard not only do you negate those gains, you exhaust yourself so much that it takes too many rest days to recover. Those wasted days could be well spent gaining fitness. The object is to do the workout as close to prescribed pace as possible, calculated with a well thought out training plan based off of current fitness levels, and recover fast enough so that you can move onto your next challenging workout rested and ready to make progress.
What type of workouts you incorporate into your training week and the recommended dose (volume and intensity) of each session depends on your fitness level, what part of your training cycle you are in, and to a certain extent, your dedication. If a runner just haphazardly goes about doing workouts on whims and without a plan, he/she may improve a certain amount, but they won’t maximize those gains. Runners without a game plan are prone to inconsistency and often illness/injury. The key is to train consistently, over a long period of time, without a break down. That is where the biggest gains are made.
First, make sure your training schedule is realistic for you and your current conditioning. If you are new to the game or are making a comeback after a long absence from the sport, planning a 20-mile run, an intense track workout, and a tempo run in the same week might be too optimistic. If you are struggling and aren’t sure why, speak to someone whose opinion you trust. Regardless of how well we may know the fundamentals of training, we all become a little blinded when it comes to our own personal program. My dad has practiced law for 60 years and he would always say “Show me an attorney who represents himself and I will show you a lawyer who has a fool for a client.” The same thing is true with running.
To summarize, make sure you are recovered from your previous hard workout before charging into the next one. Your hard workouts should challenge you but they shouldn’t be drudgery. Monitor your pace (or heart rate) making sure your effort is reasonable for your fitness level. If you feel you are not recovering properly from workouts (or you just run into a workout where you’re out and out tired), adjust your schedule and take either an easy day or a day off. Remember a golden rule of mine. “It isn’t going to hurt you to miss the workout if it is going to hurt you to do the workout”. And don’t run too hard on your easy days. It is common to start out feeling tired on a recovery day and yet 20 minutes into it when we start to feel good, the temptation is to step on the gas. Don’t do that!
Remember, after you have done the work the “rest” should be easy. It was hard earned, so enjoy it!
USATF/I.A.A.F Level 3/5 Certified Coach