Marathon Training Diary, Week 6: The importance of rest for runners

9 August 2016  |  Alex

If there’s one thing that I don’t like as a runner, it’s not being able to run as much as I like. By this I don’t mean being too busy to run – it’s not exactly as if I’ve got a full dance card – I mean that my body physically cannot meet the expectations of my desire. This brings me in a segue to the crux of this week’s training blog: the importance of rest and recovery to running.

It doesn’t matter whether you are training for your first 5k or your seventy-first marathon, making sure that you are getting the proper levels rest is of the utmost importance. Here are my own humble tips on how to improve your running (even when you’re not running).

Beating Your PBs in Your Sleep

One thing that cannot be overlooked when it comes to running is the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. By this I don’t mean getting a little more shut-eye than usual the night before a big race but making sure that you are consistently giving your body the chance to recuperate. Getting less sleep can have a range of effects on your body including everything from the obvious to the less well known. Effects include:

  • Mental fatigue, affecting your motivation and dedication
  • Being quicker to reach a point of exhaustion when exercising (which is exactly the wrong sort of quicker for a runner)
  • Not giving your body time to repair microscopic tears in muscles, which can lead to a cumulative type of muscle pain
  • Producing less sweat, making running in hotter temperatures even more tiring than it would be otherwise

I think that you get the point. If you really want to focus on running, you can do your performance (and yourself) a favour and try to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Considering that a lot of runners, including myself, feel that the optimal time to head out is in the morning, this can mean catching a few early nights (even if you don't want to).

Take a Day Off

Though you may feel like you have to run every single day if you want to make any improvements, with running it can be the case that too much is worse than not enough. Not giving your body time to repair itself can stunt your development as a runner, which is something that people who are training for a big race are liable to forget.

For races such as marathons and triathlons, it is important that your have a "taper" period. What is a taper? Put simply, in the couple of weeks before your race, you should begin to reduce your mileage. For many runners, the idea of taking their foot off the accelerator just when the end's in sight seems ridiculous. However, a properly implemented taper allows levels of glycogen, anti-oxidants and enzymes in muscles to reach their perfect levels without affecting your VO2 max.

My Week in Running

This week, I crossed an important milestone in any marathon training programme – I had my first terrible run. Of course running is subjective and what I call a good run might be terrible to many other runners (and vice versa) but this week I really struggled to limp my way through a fairly flat 32 kilometer run to South Wimbledon. I look at these poor runs thusly: it's better to get your terrible runs out of the way while you are training than to have plain sailing up until the marathon and then have a nightmare.

What made my run this week even worse was the fact that I was hoist by my own petard. I had written only last week about the importance of being adaptable to your environment, but when I was running this Sunday and the clouds parted and the temperature rose several degrees, I went to pieces. After a few runs that I had been quite (quietly) pleased about, it's good to have a humbling experience to ensure that I don't get complacent.

Top 5 Running Songs of the Week

Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945

For a song that is about the death of Anne Frank and her possible resurrection as a "little boy in Spain" who is part of the resistance against Franco, "Holland, 1945" is surprisingly upbeat. With mariachi horns and blistering drums, it's a real pulse-raiser.

Abba – Waterloo

Pretty much the entirety of Abba's greatest hits are on my personal running playlist, but this – one of their earliest hits – is the one that sticks out to me. From the driving piano riff to the almost-plaintive "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa Waterloo", this song is so catchy I can no longer catch the Jubilee Line without getting it stuck in my mind.

Doctor John – Iko Iko

While I wouldn't trust him to perform thoracic surgery, Dr. John can definitely play a piano. With roots in the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, Iko Iko is one of those songs that seems to have been around forever, just waiting for people to record it.

Philip Glass – Funeral of Amenhotep (from Akhnaten)

Despite being from an opera about a pharaoh that lived over 3000 years ago, composed by a notoriously challenging avant-garde musician and being sung entirely in Sanskrit, this is a surprisingly fun song to listen to when running.

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

Another 80s banger from Ms. Bush (thought there are too many to give them all their proper due), "Hounds of Love" is a great song for pretending that you're being chased. The Futureheads cover isn't half bad either!

That covers this week's diary but join me again next time, where I'll be writing about how to go running when you're on holiday (or going on holiday to run).

Do you feel down about having to rest when you're running? Tell me about it below!