One of the expressions we use at home is, “Today’s going to be a training day.” What that means in translation is that one of us plans on taking it easy that day, maybe even lie on the sofa and read a book – and feel no guilt, because it’s part of training. How can that be training, you ask? You just need to read the literature!
In our house we have a small library of books on running, and that isn’t counting our multi-year collection of Runner’s World magazines. One of them my husband refers to as the bible (no offense intended), and it sits on our coffee table for easy access, along with the daily newspapers and our iPad.
From our healthy collection of reference material, one of the lessons we’ve embraced is that you should think of rest days as training days. It turns out that your hard training will not be nearly as effective if you don’t allow your body the time it needs to recover and repair. Yes, repair. When your body undergoes strenuous activity, like running, a good workout at the gym or a demanding fitness class, you cause stress to your muscles and bones that need time to repair. It’s part of the process of making you stronger. And you need the recovery to replenish your energy, not to mention to prevent overuse injuries. This is true for everyone, not just for old(er) people. It’s right there in the books!
For old(er) folks like us, the recovery time needs to be longer. The schedules that have you running every day just do not provide the needed recovery time. However, regardless of how much recovery time you need, you need it. Hence the notion that a rest day is simply another training day, it is as important a part of your training as the running part. You can see the appeal of this philosophy.
The new June edition of Runner’s World has added what might be considered a corollary to this concept of “rest equals training”. In an article called “Rest Right”, Cindy Kuzma makes it clear that if you are doing interval work (fast bits interspersed with slow bits), the recovery intervals (slow bits) are just as critical to performing your best as the speedwork (fast bits). Not only that, but having longer recovery intervals doesn’t mean you’re being a slacker, it means that you have a plan for what kind of benefit you are trying to get out of your recovery interval, or rest.
If you have very short rests (30-90 seconds) between your fast intervals, you are teaching your body to run through fatigue. (I think this is fairly obvious if you’ve ever tried it.) If you opt for a medium rest (2-4 minutes), you are teaching your body to build stamina. And if you chose a long rest (4-10 minutes), you are ensuring a quality workout by allowing your body to fully recover and be 100% ready for the next repeat. So you can’t lose. The article doesn’t mention what your body learns if you decide not to start up again, but I’m sure we can come up with something.
Not only are longer recovery/rest periods between two fast intervals useful, but according to Ms. Kuzma, you should be going very slowly, even walking, rather than jogging. You should do whatever feels most comfortable. Is this good advice or what?
The bottom line is that you don’t need to apologize for your rest days. You don’t need to be embarrassed. You’re training. And you don’t need to beat yourself up if you take a 2-minute – or a 5-minute – walk in between a run segment. You are building up stamina or ensuring a quality workout. It was your plan all along. It’s all good.