The Importance of Rest in Marathon Training
One of the most important parts of any training program is rest. You heard me right: one of the keys to success on race day is actually not running now and then.
Over the last five months, I’ve experimented with streak running – running at least 3km every day for weeks on end. Between August and October I ran 62 days in a row. Later in the year, I ran 26 days in a row in November and December.
I learned a lot about myself during those two extended periods of daily running. But the single biggest thing I learned running everyday is the importance of rest. Obviously, streak running doesn’t provide much in the way of rest and the lack of days off led to sore legs and shin splints both times.
Five days a week
When I was training for the BMO Vancouver Marathon in the winter and spring of 2014, I ran five days a week for the first two months, then eased it back a bit to four days a week at the peak of the program when the 29km and 32km Sunday runs were happening, and then ramped it back up to five days a week through to the taper.
That worked well for me as it reduced the stress on my legs during the most strenuous part of the training cycle and still allowed for rest days even when I was running five days a week.
Rest days provide a chance for your body to rebuild damaged tissues and that leads to stronger muscles that can take you farther and let you run faster. If you skip the rest, those damaged fibres aren’t repaired and the next run adds to the injury. Do that over and over and you’ll eventually break down.
There’s also a mental component to rest. I found running everyday to be exhausting at times. Those days where I didn’t feel like running were tough mentally and that led to some less-than-fun runs. Taking a day off now and then gives you a mental reset to go with the physical healing and makes for more enjoyable runs.
Lessons to learn from streak runners
You might be asking yourself how streak runners keep going for months and even years without a rest. The answer to that question is that streak runners do rest, but they do it a little differently. There’s a few things that non-daily runners can take from streak runners to help out with getting that important rest.
Firstly, you can rest and still run. The key is to keep the distance short and, most importantly, the pace slow. I’m talking about slower than your Sunday pace. Really slow and easy. A 3-5km run at a minute or two above your usual pace per kilometre is almost like not running at all and provides some active recovery to those tired muscles.
That’s something non-streak runners can practice too. If you feel tired, or if your legs are feeling sore, ease back the pace or the distance and get in some active recovery without missing a run.
Secondly, you can almost take a day off, even if you run every day. How? By running early one day and then later the next. Granted, eventually you’ll need to make up that time difference, but that can be managed by opting for an afternoon run on the weekend, or with one of the shorter, slower runs mentioned earlier. Get the timing right, and you can get 36 or even 40 hours between runs, even if you run every day.
Once again, that’s a strategy that you can use in regular training as well. If you feel a bit tired after a long Sunday run of 29km, take Monday off and then delay your Tuesday run until late in the day and you can add an extra 12 hours to your recovery time.
Get your rest, improve your time
It’s tempting to try to run faster, farther and more often in an attempt to improve your marathon time. But don’t underestimate the importance of rest when training for your race. A day off here and there, and some easy, slower and shorter runs will make your training more effective than running yourself to exhaustion, or into an injury.
Rest up and run better!