As a Running Coach (CIRF), I seem to spend my days scrolling Strava and rolling my eyes at those who have been out and put in a hard session the day after another hard session. Banging out miles at their usual pace when they should be resting or taking it a bit easier. Many athletes don’t seem to understand the importance of rest or recovery running. They seem to think that only hard miles will do. Of course, this is often the case with newer, less experienced runners who don’t yet understand the mechanics of their training. I have been there and done it myself. I got told off for going out two days after a really hard marathon and trying to run 5 miles. What I should have done was wait for the DOMs to subside and let my body have a few days to recover.

The truth of the matter is, that taking time to rest and recover will help you in the long run become a stronger faster runner. When we rest after a hard session, we are allowing our body to recover – for the tiny tears in the muscles to repair, for our bodies to rehydrate, regenerate and become stronger. Rest and recovery are just as important as the training miles.

Resting to Recover

When you are resting, you must use the opportunity to allow your body to recover. You should get plenty of sleep, eat the right foods and hydrate as much as possible. Some runners also find a regular stretching routine beneficial. Using tools such as foam rollers and massage guns are also handy tools to have.

stretching after running

The trouble with many runners, which can come from lack of experience, knowledge or understanding, is that they feel like they should be running as much as possible to get enough miles in. If you are training for a 50-mile event, you sometimes feel like you won’t be ready if you don’t ramp it up and keep at it every day. This couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t let that panic make you over-train. You will become worn out or, worse still, injured and completely demotivated.

Recovery Running

For years now, the mainstream school of thought has been that recovery running is important after a hard session the day before. This is largely to get the blood flowing and “flush the legs”. While some people consider 2-3 miles enough, others push it to 5 or 6. Others believe that rest should mean rest and that a recovery run contradicts this.

Sometimes, when waking up the day after a long training run when everything is hurting or you feel worn out, the last thing you want to do is get up and run. Equally, some exercise will do you good at least to get the blood flowing to start repairing the minuscule muscle tears you may have caused during your long run. An easy bike ride, a walk with the dogs, swimming or other gentle exercise may be a good alternative to pounding the pavements or tearing up the trails.

If you are going to run, don’t over do it. Keep the mileage low and slow. if you are an 8-minute miler, tone this down to between 9 and 10 minutes per mile. Keep the heart rate low, keep the terrain easy and take it easy! Don’t go out and bang out 8 miles at your usual pace. You will end up fatigued or worse, injured.

Benefits of Recovery Runs:

  1. Enhanced Blood Flow: Light running helps increase blood flow, which can help in removing metabolic waste products from muscles and bring in nutrients needed for repair.
  2. Reduced Muscle Soreness: Engaging in a gentle run can help reduce muscle soreness (DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) experienced after hard workouts.
  3. Improved Endurance: Even at a slower pace, recovery runs can contribute to overall aerobic conditioning.
  4. Mental Recovery: Easier runs can provide a mental break from the intensity of hard training sessions, reducing burnout.
  5. Injury Prevention: By avoiding high-intensity efforts all the time, recovery runs can reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Examples of Recovery Running Sessions

  1. Short Easy Run: A 30-minute run at a conversational pace.
  2. Run-Walk Combination: Alternating between 5 minutes of easy running and 1-2 minutes of walking, repeated 4-5 times.
  3. Trail Running: Running on softer surfaces like trails or grass can reduce the impact on your joints and provide a more enjoyable recovery experience. However, avoid technical terrain and elevation.

Rest Should be Integral to Training

Of course, it is important to follow a training plan when training for any event but if you are building up to a marathon or ultra-marathon, rest and recovery are just as important. It is when you get the gains from your training as your muscles recover and become stronger.

Recognise When to Rest

I would always advise any runner to try to develop the ability to recognise when they need a rest as this can help them avoid picking up an injury. This can be difficult for ultramarathon training because running when fatigued can be an important part of your programme – in fact, it is the specific reason for long back-to-back sessions. It is being able to understand when it is time to put your feet up that is important.

Ensure that there are rest days in your training programme. I don’t run more than 5 times a week. It’s a great routine to get into and gives your body those magic times to heal and repair and make you stronger for your next run.

Don’t Obsess Over Training

The other advice I give to runners is that you don’t have to follow the training programme rigorously, make it work for you and your life – when you’re tired, you’re tired! Take a break, don’t wait for the rest day on the programme. Switch things around and make it work for you. Missing a run because you are tired isn’t going to mean you aren’t going to be ready for your event. Resting can be just as effective!

Top Tip

Just as feeling rested and renewed when it comes to your body, it’s also important to recognise when your kit is old and tired. Checking out the state of your running shoes and ensuring that they are offering the right support is also important.

You can discover more about running an ultra marathon and whats involved, here.

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