Of all my Secret to Success posts, I honestly think this is one of the most important, and one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to peaking for the races that you care about the most. A lot of runners are terrified to take even a few days off after the season for fear of loosing the fitness they have worked so hard to reach. The reality is actually the opposite, especially after a tough training segment followed by a “balls to the wall”, all out effort in a half marathon or marathon, your body will go further into breakdown if you do not give it some time to repair.
Note: I am not qualified to tell you to make any drastic changes in your training. I am just sharing what works for me, and what I have found through my scholarly research. Please consult your doctor before making major changes.
|Time to walk away from the season, and let the body rebuild|
|Time to put your feet up, and relax!|
I may be an elite athlete, I may love my running, but when you put your heart and soul (as well as your body) into the season, you NEED that time off. Honestly, for me it is almost more important emotionally than physically, and I embrace the extra time and laziness that comes with it.
This end of season break is slightly different to usual because I am taking it two weeks after my half marathon. This is because Chicago Marathon is my next big race, and I do not want to have too long of a build up to it. By taking my time off now, I will have 18 weeks until the race, which leaves 3 weeks to just run miles and build back up, followed by a 15 week segment.
You have heard about how people study better when they take short breaks regularly right? Well, it is a similar concept for exercise. Here are the 8 main reasons you benefit from taking time off
- Recovery – This study found that in the 7 days after a marathon, your skeletal muscle cells are in necrosis, meaning they are inflamed and dying. If you do not allow your body adequate time to recover, it is not going to be able to repair itself fast enough, and it will take you a lot longer to feel better.
- Injury risk – If you are not able to recover, you are putting your exhausted body at a risk of something major going wrong. It is better to take a few days off now, than take a month off in the future when your body breaks down.
- Refocus- Regardless of whether you reached your goal or not, you put your body through a tough training segment, followed by pushing it to the limit. Taking time off allows you to reflect, and think about what you want in the future.
- Emotional recharge – If you really did do everything you could have for your season, in addition to physical, you will also be emotionally exhausted from the intensity and energy you used to focus on your goals. I find that especially if I use vizualisation for weeks prior to the race, my mind is exhausted as it has essentially run a race 10-30 times.
- Niggling injuries have time to heal – Most runners have some kind of ache or pain that gave some trouble during the season. This time off allows it to fully repair. Your body can direct all its energy to repairing it, rather than splitting its healing efforts between repair from training as well as repairing the issue. Note: I know niggles is a weird word for my American readers but I am not sure of the equivalent; twinges maybe?
- To get the full benefit of training cycles – Your body cannot reach the next level without rest periods in between. Being able to rebuild your training base helps you reach that next level.
- It gives you time to work on ROM (range of motion), and flexibility. That means you can start the next training segment on a good note!
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder – If you take more than a few days, you will be surprised by how quickly you are itching to get going again. It gives you a whole new appreciation of running.
If you need more persuading from a scientific point of view, check out this article from Runners Connect. Even if you are no longer sore, your body is still heavily in the repair phase for up to two weeks, so when you do return to running, it should be gradual and easy.
What do I do?
I take 1-2 weeks completely off running. The exact amount of time depends on how I am feeling, and how long the race was. That means no running, no cross training, no core, NOTHING. And you know what? I thoroughly enjoy this time.
|Time away from eating healthy. That right there is an Oreo crusted chicken sandwich, and yes, I did eat it all in one go!|
I am aware I will lose a little fitness, and gain weight during this time, but it is healthy to gain weight at the end of a season. If you have really dedicated yourself, done all the little things, then you have earned some time to let go, do nothing, and eat whatever the heck you want! During the season, I allow myself some food each day that I crave, but this is the time to go for whatever your heart desires…..if you want ice cream for breakfast followed by fried chicken for lunch, and a cupcake for dinner, DO IT! It is not healthy for your body to stay at racing weight all year around, so a few extra pounds is not going to do any harm, it will come off again within a few weeks.
After the time off, I gradually build back up my mileage; the first two weeks are just easy runs, with a few days off each week. I then incorporate a few weeks of hill workouts once per week, and increase the long run before gradually resuming mileage.
Be aware, the first few runs you may feel uncoordinated, out of shape, and…well, just off, but that will disappear within a few weeks.
Your body will be so much better off after you have given it time to completely charge down. It will thank you in the long run by bringing you back to where you were in less time, and going beyond that to make you even stronger!
If you missed my other Secrets to Success posts, you can check them out below