The most important component of training

I am by no means an expert on training. I “trained” pretty haphazardly throughout high school and college. I ran whenever I had the time and as fast or long as I could that day. As I result, my race times were all over the board. Some were great. Others were mediocre, but there were no consistent improvements. I wasn’t really training my body for anything.

When I decided to make the transition from 5 and 10ks to half marathons after college, I had no idea where to start, so I decided to use a training plan. At first I was really confused. I couldn’t understand why they would even bother with “easy runs.” If you had more in the tank, why not use it? Um because you can’t give 100% every day dummy. That’s why. I learned you have to save your energy for the long and hard runs, so some days you have to just go out there and have a fun run.

Fine. Running for fun was all well and good, but I absolutely could not process why mileage would generally build for 3 weeks (6, 7, 8 mile long run) followed by a week with much more limited mileage. What gives?

It turns out that I was neglecting what I now consider the most important components of any training plan. Rest days and recovery periods.

Every good training plan should have built in rest days and weeks with less mileage that allow your body time to recover. There have been numerous articles written about the importance of rest and recovery, but it really can’t be stressed enough. If you want to ask a lot from your body, you need to care for it.

I think lots of runners, especially newer runners are afraid to take rest days because they worry they’ll lose all the fitness they’ve worked to gain. I can understand this, but it’s just not true. The truth is, if you’ve been running consistently for even a few months, anything less than 2 straight weeks of rest won’t make a dent in your fitness level. You may find it’s a little harder to pick up where you left off, but you’ll work back up to speed much quicker than the first time around.

On the other hand, if you chose to skip those rest days and recovery weeks, you may find your self with a very common overuse injury that has you laid up for significantly longer than 2 weeks, and that’s just no fun at all.

One day off for every 7-14 allows the body to replenish energy stores, recover from fatigue and allow muscle fibers to repair and grow stronger.

I personally think a complete rest day (or maybe a lightly active rest day with some walking) is totally wonderful. I think psychologically, having a day when you don’t think about running can do wonders. But if you’re one of those people that absolutely must workout, make sure you stick to some guidelines. On your rest day (really an easy day) your heart rate should stay below 75% (ideally below 60%) max and if you choose to run (rather than cross train by biking or swimming or some other activity) your mileage should really be under four miles.

Believe me, I’ve been there. Following my second half marathon, I told myself I’d take a break, do some cross-training and fully recover, but the siren song of running sucked me right back out to the pavement. Maybe some people can complete a training plan and just keep running as normal, but I am not one of those people. I really should have worked on building my base by spinning and lifting, but I ran. As I result, I tightened my IT band to the point where I had to submit to a solid month of PT with no running. Immediately after that, I threw my lower back out and was laid up for another 2 weeks. It was pretty evident at that point that my body had simply had enough. It was looking for some time to recover, and since I wasn’t offering any, it forced some recovery time on me. What should have been a simple 2-4 weeks or recovery and cross training turned into 6 weeks of pain, physical therapy and limited mobility. It was totally not worth it.

Every person knows his or her own body best, so it’s up to you to decide what kind of schedule works for you, but I highly suggest you work some rest days and recovery weeks into your fitness routine.

In the event that you do get injured here is an article on why the RICE (actually, it turns out it’s PRICE. Who knew?) method works so well.

PRICE stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. They’re 5 simple steps you can take when you feel an injury coming on. First, protect the area in pain (basically stop doing what makes it hurt). After that, be sure to rest it (keep weight off it), ice it (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off), compress it (through the use of compression gear or ACE bandages) and keep it elevated. In addition to speeding up the healing process, these steps make the injury a little less painful too.

My poor dearest is currently employing the PRICE method big time following a painful foot sprain. He did everything right with his training including incorporating rest and recovery time proving that sometimes you can do everything right and still get hurt. It’s awful and unfair, but I know he’ll be back up and running in no time.

In the meantime, I’m meeting up with a new running partner tonight for a 4 miler. It’s supposed to be a tempo run, but I’m pretty sure she’s faster than me, so I’ll just run the whole thing a bit faster than normal and call it good. It’s my first time in a long time running with anyone other than Chris. and I’m nervous! What if I’m too slow? What if I’m underdressed, overdressed, forgot to get dressed?? What if I fall on my face? Truly, this is what goes through my head. Wish me luck!


How do you do rest days? Do you take it easy and take the whole day off or do you just have to get out and do something?


One thought on “The most important component of training

  1. Pingback: Base Building Week 4 « I Broke my Umbrella

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