This isn't the old R&R that you often hear about. You know what I'm talking about: that unplugged vacay of rest, relaxation, and a golden aura of joy. TRUE rest and relaxation do sound good right about now though….IJS
The R&R we are talking about is like a hungry toddler---if you don't feed them in time it's a catastrophic meltdown. That fine balance between managing all the factors at play while also keeping your sanity. Parents: you get what I'm saying.
Making sure you rest enough as a runner is a fine line between not pushing hard enough and pushing too hard. One toe over that line and you can easily be sidelined for weeks/months with injury or burnout. But how exactly DO you balance it? Pull out those old-school scales and let's dive in!
(For the record: Pizza wins over gold bars!)
Especially during training cycles, you are hyper-focused on executing every workout with precision. Most of the time you are pushing your limits with paces/distances and it can get hard to decipher what is a normal sore muscle or a precursor for burnout/an incoming injury. Here is my go-to checklist to help point me in the right direction:
When did it start and have I had a prior injury or problem in that area?
Is it ONLY when I'm running or is it constant?
If I take an extra rest day, how does it feel?
Now, by no means am I a doctor so don't construe any of this for actual medical advice. In my experience though, the above questions allow me to roll out of the emotional tornado of "OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING?!" and rationally work the problem.
My answer to most everything that starts hurting too much is to take a rest day. If that means moving my rest day from a Sunday to a Wednesday, no worries! Your body doesn't care if it's a day (or three) earlier than the schedule has written out. All your body knows is it's tired, sore, and needs rest. Regardless if you are base building or training I require all my athletes to take one full rest day with no exceptions. Knowing that one day won't set you back, don't be afraid to take an extra rest day. During times that you are pushing distance or speed, you are purposely over-taxing your muscles to build endurance and it's natural for your body to feel that breakdown. Taking the rest now can ward off potential injuries and keep you rolling forward.
Rest days aren't only important for the physical well-being but also the mental (see how I always bring it back to that mental game?) 😎
Mental fatigue can wreak havoc on your runs as well. If you have an especially hard week at work and feel like you are slogging through your miles and workouts—-Take a step back. Our body doesn't differentiate between the good stress of running (the irony is so many of us use running as stress management) it just sends signals to our brain that we are overloaded. If you don't feel like you need an extra rest day but still need a reset, try the following:
Pulling back on speed work and focusing on easy relaxed miles.
Changing up the route/time of day you run. Playing with the mental cues you are used to can revitalize and freshen up the routine which can avoid the mental slump of monotony.
Run without your watch or audio cues. Running purely by feel can take the pressure off and let you zone in with your body. Thus allowing you to rest from the "grind" while still staying active.
At the end of the day, we can play a big game of chess with ourselves until we hit a checkmate. Don't fall into the trap of putting off rest until it's convenient in your schedule. Remember that resting your mind is just as important as your body. If you need to take a step back and put running aside for a few---DO IT!
Sub running workouts for cross training to stay active: biking, swimming, walking—it all counts!
Delete social media apps on your phone so you aren’t constantly scrolling endlessly looking at others training/paces if it’s stealing the joy from your own running.
Have your coach build in a extra “down” weeks to your schedule. Plan to take time off after races and don’t stay on the grind month after month, year after year.
Know that it’s NORMAL to go through seasons of non-running. EVERYONE does it and it can more often than not do wonders and make you come back refreshed and WANTING to go out there vs feeling like it’s a “have to”.
There will be many running days ahead, take the rest, take a deep breathe and find the balance to make it manageable.
How do YOU balance running and rest?