“If you’re tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” — Banksy
It’s the end of the weekend and I’m sitting at 32 miles for the week.
If I could just round that off to 40 miles, it would look nice and symmetrical in my training log. Of course, if I’m at 44 miles for the week, I’d like to see 50. Or if I was at 48, I’d be looking longingly at 55.
Padding your mileage at the end of a week, month, or year to reach a milestone is the running equivalent of topping off your gas tank to get to an even number. It just feels right.
It can be motivating to try to always hit that next round number. At the same time, it can also be counterproductive if it results in overtraining.
Over the years, I’ve learned that rest and recovery are just as important as hard workout days. If you want to reap the rewards of training, give your body time to heal and rejuvenate. Here are ways that I balance training with recovery to stay healthy and injury-free.
Schedule step-back weeks
It’s impossible to see your training graph continue to go up and to the right indefinitely. But the way to make sustainable progress is to take two steps forward, one step back, and repeat. When you’re gobbling up mileage, adding in weeks of reduced mileage and intensity will help you adjust, adapt, and prepare both mentally and physically to take it to the next level in the following weeks. I’ve found it also helps to schedule step-back weeks for when you need more time to devote to other parts of your life, like over the holidays, family vacations, or a busy work schedule.
The need for less speed
You don’t have to run fast to reap a lot of the rewards of running. In fact, dialing back on the intensity for recovery runs will reduce your risk for injury while you get in beneficial miles. Going out for a slow jog — sometimes called “junk” miles — can boost endurance, build aerobic capacity, burn calories, strengthen your joints and tendons, and release endorphins. The rule of thumb is about 2–3 workouts per week should be fast or intense, while the rest should be at a “talking pace” recovery speed.
A whole industry has sprung up promising faster recovery from expensive supplements, massages, oils, etc. Some of these claims might be dubious or have a possible placebo effect. Meanwhile, sleep is still free and is supported by study after study to boost recovery and athletic performance. I aim for 8 hours a night, especially during my heavy training seasons. If I can get more than that I feel like a superhero. If it doesn’t disrupt your sleep schedule, sneak in a short nap after your weekend long run for an even better recovery boost.
I try to remind myself that rest and recovery allow me to do more of what I love — running fast and running long. But I can also sneak in slow recovery jogs for the best of both worlds. This weekend, for example, I ran 8 slow miles while pushing my son in the stroller and then running my dog for a cool-down. We all got fresh air, we bonded and we got to spend extra — bonus! — time running because of my slow pace.
Then tomorrow, I run again while feeling stronger.