After The Work(out), The Rest Is Easy.
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. Grinding out workouts, running through lousy weather, enduring head colds, sore muscles, and overall fatigue, as we make sure we are abiding by the venerated schedule, becomes our sole focus. Suddenly, we have that scratchy throat or a sore Achilles. We have all seen it; we have all done it.
How much is too much and how much rest does it take to create a slacker? The later thought sends the most intelligent runners limping out the door for some extra miles. Sometimes it sends them spinning their wheels and literally wasting their time and resources.
We, as distance runners, are tenacious, and that tenacity is often our undoing as we push harder than we should and not recovering enough before mashing once more. The hard workouts tax the system and the 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.
By 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 goal pace. Running the workout too hard, or overloading, 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 too excess. 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 days could be well spent gaining fitness. So the object is to do the workout as close to goal 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.
There are numerous different systems in the body to train. VO2 max, lactate threshold, your long endurance base, speed, etc. They all work different systems and to a certain extent you can overlap hard workouts that tax a different system as long as you allow a certain amount of recovery. For instance, you might train your lactate threshold (cruise intervals or tempo runs), take an easy day to recover, and then run a long run. You aren’t fully recovered from your threshold workout, but that system has recovered enough to attempt a different type of workout that doesn’t challenge the same system head on. You take a couple of easy days after your long run and you might then move on to a VO2 max interval session (5k pace work on track). You are not fully recovered from the long run yet, but the VO2 max workout will challenge different systems. A couple of easy days and your lactate threshold system is fully recovered and ready to be trained again.
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.
As the summer draws to a close we are now moving into what many of us consider the prime-racing season. It might be too late to revamp your entire training plan but you can make sure that from now until the end of your racing season, you give yourself the best chance to succeed in these up coming months.
First of all, 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.
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 this 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!