Marathon Mondays: Rest and Recovery

Marathon Mondays: Rest and Recovery

Welcome again to Marathon Mondays!

Performance Triangle (c) CbertramWe are going to focus on the third part of the performance triangle – Rest and Recovery. Find out why rest and recovery are as vital to training as the actual running itself.

‘Rest’ is often perceived as a dirty word amongst runners, with many fearing that they will lose all of their hard-earned fitness in an instant. However, rest and recovery are probably the two most underrated facets of training. Whilst the world’s best runners train very hard, they also take their recovery super seriously and are supremely lazy (no joke) when they’re not putting one foot in front of another!


Just what do we mean with rest and recovery?

There is a difference. To paraphrase a famous phrase of our time: “Rest means rest.” Do nothing. Nada. Zip. This effectively means you can do anything you want, except running and exercising.
Recovery, on the other hand, also called active recovery, leaves room for some activity at extremely low intensity, and often at highly reduced duration. Total rest can make your muscles stiff, and that’s not really what you want when you are going into a weekend with long runs or that next interval session. Recovery is also the process that happens when you rest, but that’s getting complex.

So why should you rest and recover as well as you train?

There are at least as many reasons to take your recovery super-seriously as there are days in the week.

You get fitter. Gains happen when you rest, not when you train. Your body can absorb the stimulus and adapt to the training completed.

Getting fitter means that you are adapting to the increased training load and to do that, you need to rest. The diagram below describes the physiological adaptation process that happens when you train.

Initially, you get worse with training, during recovery your body adapts, which leads to increased physical capacity during the next phase. If you do nothing during this phase for prolonged periods of time, you fall back to your original base level. If, however, during that phase you add another training stimulus, you start the cycle anew, but from a higher base level. Conversely, if you introduce a new training stimulus too early, i.e. during the recovery process, you are pushing your body further into a physical capacity deficit. Over time, this may lead to overtraining.


You reduce the risk of injury. Damage to tissue increases the chance of overuse injuries and stress fractures. When you rest, your body heals itself. Quite marvellous, your body!
You can recharge mentally. This is often underestimated, when rest in itself is already underestimated. Double whammy! Switching off will give you chance to focus on other interests, keep your mind fresh and not burn out before the big day.
Consistency. The key element of training is being able to train consistently – not hard for one month then broken for the next one! To maintain that consistency, regular rest days are vital, for all the reasons above.
Train Harder. Recover and rest and then train harder without over-training. Yep, once your muscles, bones and mind have had a little breather, you can tackle that next interval session and put the gains to use.
Race better. Tapering in the final two weeks will give you the chance to maximise performance. This can be the same number of sessions, but a reduced duration, or drop the number of sessions but keep duration the same. Beware of Maranoia (it’s a thing!) though during the taper – that feeling of “I’m under the weather”. Chances are you are not and your body is just a bit surprised over the reduced load combined with the excitement over the upcoming race.
Periodisation. You can’t be in race shape all year round. Training blocks allow for absorption of training gains, and recovery post race. So rest and recovery periods are really necessary as preparation for your next challenge.

What should you do after a hard session?

Cooling down will enable your body to come out of the training zone effectively and is the signal for your body to start the recovery process.
After any session, the most important thing is to refuel, meaning to refill your energy stores with carbs and provide the right material for muscles to start repairing, usually protein. Don’t forget to rehydrate, but avoid binge drinking water or any liquid. Your body won’t be able to absorb the liquid as quickly as you put it in. This should happen ideally within 20 min of you finishing your session, so even before you hit the shower.

And on those rest days? And what about recovery days?

If it says REST in your training plan – do it! It’s ok to put your feet up every once in a while, and binge on a box set. Remember the supremely lazy elite athletes. If you have a read of a random sample of their biographies, they all talk about rest days, and how they had to learn to rest and do NOTHING. Athletes differ in when they need a rest day. Some dedicate one day a week, others every 10th or 14th day. It’s important to find out what your rhythm is.
Recovery days (or active recovery) are great and necessary. Total inactivity may make your muscles tighter, but going too hard on recovery days won’t allow your muscles to heal. So keep these super-easy. Recovery days are great for light cross-training, doing less demanding training (you know that Zumba class you always wanted to try?), and should compliment your hard days. Recovery days should be an opportunity to flush out any impurities from the body and prepare it for the next hard session. That’s fancy for get a massage!

Rest and recovery are key ingredients in your training – don’t be afraid to use them!

What are your favourite recovery sessions? What do you like to do on your rest days?

Also, let us know what you think of the series by commenting or hitting that like button below and if there is a topic you would like us to cover, that’s right, let us know!




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