Rx for Some Rest!
One of the most wonderful things about coaching adults is how hard you all are willing to work for your goals! You’re following the schedule and starting to get into the weekly groove of the running or walking program. We’re starting to get into the real meat of the program now, miles are climbing but we still have a month or so until we see numbers like 7,9, or 10 miles. Now is the time to establish all of the habits of an endurance athlete including: proper training, nutrition, hydration, and rest. You are already doing the training work and I want to discuss rest and recovery today. I will talk a lot more about nutrition and hydration in the weeks to come, but right now let’s focus on rest.
First, I want to address why we do not run every single day in a training program. Of course we have to work hard in training so our bodies can get used to what we will ask of it on race day, not to mention in the weeks leading up to race day! All that work, especially in running, stresses our systems and breaks us down. I’m not going to get into the science of how our muscles break down and recover, but know that it is happening and somehow we need to allow time for repair. The amazing thing is that when given proper rest and time for recovery, our bodies not only recover but actually come back stronger. We’re then ready for the next training day and the cycle can continue. If we run every day of the week, there is no time for recovery and we just become fatigued. I cannot stress this enough, it is the days off when we are resting that our bodies are doing the work required to repair, recover, and make us stronger. We are running 4 or 5 days a week with the Cap City plan with rest days built into each week. However, many of us do workouts in addition to running and walking, which takes our workout days to more like 5 or 6. All of that motivation is wonderful, but at least one day of complete rest (no workouts) per week is crucial. Many of us need more than that and if you feel like you need a day off, you probably do so take the day off!
You’ll probably notice that you are needing or wanting more sleep as you get deeper into the training program. We all know the value of truly good sleep. We wake up feeling ready to attack another day or at least awake enough to not pull the sheets back up over our heads. Sleep affects our overall feeling of well being and health too. Even a cursory look at the literature on the subject by someone not trained in the field (like me) reveals associations of sleep duration and/or quality with major health risks such as obesity and high blood pressure.[2,3 ] Though the studies show these associations, whether poor sleep is a causal factor in these conditions or not is still up for scientific debate. Either way, to my mind good quality sleep can only be a positive for us! Especially runners who are not only recovering from a long day at work and life, but also adding the physiological stresses of running to the mix. It is during that sleep time where our bodies can do the work required to rebuild and repair what we’ve done with our training. As I said earlier, it is when we rest that true recovery happens and only then can we improve. We make the time to get our workouts in during the day, now make sure to get that well deserved rest and let your body do it’s job!
Sleep health and hygiene is a field in and of itself and there are all sorts of strategies for getting better sleep. Many of them include going to bed and waking at the same time every day, exercising, limiting exposure to artificial light near bedtime (like from an LED backlit computer screen), reducing stress near bedtime, and many more. However you choose to improve your sleep, make every attempt to get a good night’s worth of sleep especially in the days leading up to and after your long runs. Most of us, but not all, would like to get a few more minutes of sleep per night. I like the strategy of moving your bedtime back 10 minutes or so every night until you hit the desired bedtime. Improved sleep should benefit your recovery and therefore your training as well.
Becoming an Endurance Athlete Means Resting Like One
Unfortunately, most of us are not professional runners. As much as we’d like to, we can’t wake up, run 10 miles, take a nap, complete another workout, eat, and go back to bed. We have jobs, families, and lives that are pulling on our time and energy We are however endurance athletes. That means we need to act like it, which in turns means not only doing the work of training but focusing on our recovery, our nutrition, and our hydration. Whether simply shutting off the television an hour earlier or taking a warm shower before climbing under the covers, really try to focus on sleep and recovery as part of your training program. There is something very satisfying about climbing into bed before you have to knowing that you are taking all the rights steps for yourself. You are becoming the half marathoner that you set out to become. Rest up and see you on May 5th!
Some brief references:
 Cizza G, Skarulis M, Mignot E. Editorial: A Link Between Short Sleep and Obesity: Building the Evidence for Causation. Sleep 28: 1217-1220, 2005.
 Javaheri S, Storfer-Isser A, Rosen CL, Redline S. Sleep Quality and Elevated Blood Pressure in Adolescents. Circulation 118: 1034-1040, 2008.
 Stranges S, Dorn JM, Cappuccio FP, Donahue RP, Rafalson LB, Hovey KM, Freudenheim JL, Kandala NB, Miller MA, Trevisan M. A Population Study of Reduced Sleep Duration and Hypertension: The Strongest Association May Be In Premenopausal Women. Journal of Hypertension 28: 896-902, 2010.
 Cajochen C, Frey S, Anders D, Spati J, Bues M, Pross A, Mager R, Wirz-Justice A, Stefani O. Evening Exposure to a Light-Emitting Diodes (LED)-backlit Computer Screen Affects Circadian Physiology and Cognitive Performance. Journal of Applied Physiology 110: 1432-1438, 2011.