We figured another virtual round-up might be a tipping point for the running community, so we asked Hannah Irwin to take a rest day instead.
Sometimes we love them, other times we hate them, but we all know we need them every now and then. Rest days are a tricky one, especially for distance runners.
We all feel we need to be doing more to become a better runner, and somehow sitting on the sofa doesn’t feel productive, but it does a lot more than we realise.
They can be referred to as ‘recovery days’ or ‘adaptation days’ as this is essentially what they are for but often we think of them more as ‘lost days’, which they definitely aren’t.
The frequency of rest days varies from athlete to athlete. One runner may benefit from consistently having the same day each week reserved for their rest day, another may work in a 10-day cycle, or someone else may take their rest day as and when they feel their body needs it and others may have none at all.
Why do we need rest days?
Factoring rest days into your training schedule is just as, if not more important than the hard work you put in. Having a regular day off helps to keep you mentally and physically strong.
Carfagno and Hendrix (2014) say ‘athletes are pushed routinely to the limits of their physical abilities. When tempered with periods of rest and recovery, a highly demanding training schedule can have tremendous benefits’.
Therefore, when our bodies have the opportunity to recover from the intense training we put them through, the outcome can be significantly better than training alone without any time to recover.
When we push our bodies to their limits, our muscles tear, and need to repair in order to regain their strength. However, this process struggles to occur without proper time allotted for rest.
Rest days allow the repairing process to take place, thus helping our muscles to repair and get stronger, allowing us to ultimately run faster. Rest days allow our bodies to go harder in sessions as you will feel stronger, less fatigued, and raring to go again.
Rest days aren’t only to be cherished for the physical effects they have, but also for the mental.
However, as much as you love running, no matter who you are, you have days when you find your motivation and energy is low, and this is ok. If you find yourself itching to go out for a run on rest day, you don’t have to. Staying strong and allowing that hunger to build up, just for one day, will make your training to come much better in quality and enjoyment.
Time with loved ones.
With a busy training schedule, whether you are up early in the morning to run, or conscious of being in bed at a decent time to recover properly, it can be difficult to spend a lot of quality time with your family.
Whilst lockdown has made this juggling act easier for some, it isn’t in times of normality, especially if you are at work during the day.
It is important to embrace the extra time you have available on a rest day and use it to catch up with your friends and family, even if that is over Facetime or Zoom at the moment. It also allows you to enjoy other activities whole heartedly without being time constrained.
Personally, over lockdown, I have discovered a newfound enjoyment for playing volleyball in the garden or hitting a beach ball as hard as I can with a cricket bat and seeing who can get it the furthest.
What the elites do.
Rest days are taken by everyone, even some of our countries most elite runners’ factor in much needed ‘adaptation days’. Here is how they spend them:
A lot of elites truly embrace the importance of rest days. Melissa Courtney-Bryant, European indoor 3000m bronze medallist (2019) and 1500m Commonwealth bronze medallist (2018), is just one of those who recognises the importance of taking it easy on your rest day.
“So, I don’t have a rest day every week, so when I do have one I really like to relax and just rest!
I tend to sleep in even if it’s just not setting an alarm that day to let my body recover and wake up naturally. Instead of having my usual pre run porridge I make pancakes or have eggs for breakfast as I have more time to spend in the kitchen. In “normal times” I’d get physio or a massage now we are in lockdown I’m relying on my husband to be my physio with the help of my actual physio on video call, so I spend some time having treatment.
In “normal time’s” I might go out for coffee or lunch on a rest day but right now I’m spending a lot of time chilling either watching Netflix’s, sat in my garden or like everyone else in lockdown I’ve got into puzzles! I really like to make the most of actually resting on my rest days to make sure I’m fully recovered for my next session.
Part of a coaching philosophy
Also coached by Rob Denmark, alike Courtney-Bryant, Amy Griffiths has the same approach to her rest days. She too believes you should make the most of the being able to relax and refresh.
I love my rest days and I take full advantage of them. During lockdown the basic structure of my rest days hasn’t changed much. Some rest days I’m more active walking my dog or doing activations/drills in my garden. Others I lounge around doing my final year uni work – the recent sunny weather has been amazing for this!
I don’t have a set rest day each week like some athletes. My coach will slot them in throughout my training block when he feels they are needed. They typically fall on a Monday or Friday.
I think rest days are really important at certain points within a hard training block both physically and mentally.
Physically it’s a chance for my body to relax and recover before cracking on with training again. But ultimately it’s a day where I can switch off mentally and refocus.
Middle distance runners love rest days too
800m runner, Lynsey Sharp, makes sure she incorporates a regular rest day off every Sunday to allow your body to reap the weekly gains she makes.
‘I have every Sunday off! Usually a fairly quiet day- Saturdays are a big training day so I’m usually knackered by Sunday!! I try to get up later, make a nice breakfast such as pancakes, go for a dog walk, etc. I’ve lived in England for 7 years and I’m still not used to the everything closing at 4pm law (not a thing in Scotland) so usually a mad rush to the supermarket so I can start the next week stocked up! I then usually take ages making dinner because I have nothing else to do!
Mixing rest with busy work days
Isle of Man’s half marathon record holder and Fast10 athlete, Ollie Lockley, told us how he usually spends his rest days, and how he feels better for still getting in a bit of movement.
‘Well normally I would take a rest day when I am fairly busy at work, just so I don’t have to worry about fitting in a run and I can concentrate on work.
However, at the moment I haven’t got much going on, and if I’m honest I can’t remember the last day I took a full on rest day. For example, last week I took a day off running, but I still did an easy 45min cycle, and a walk in the afternoon. I will always do something light even if it is just an easy walk (I just can’t sit on my ass all day!! Haha).
But to fill my free time I enjoy watching documentaries, reading or listening to podcasts. When the weather is nice, I love to sit outside with a nice coffee doing this!’
Rest days as part of injury rehabilitation
Experienced GB runner Louise Small has been absolutely amazing with her patience and determination to recover from her achilles injury. She is truly appreciating the importance of allowing her body to absorb the rest. Now on her way back into training, Small told us how she spends her rest days in lockdown.
‘I’m currently running about 25 miles a week. No particular structure I just wake up in the morning and decide what I want to do which is very empowering and also refreshing. Currently, I’m having at least one rest day a week and my other days off are filled with a long walk or cardio on the ski machine…
On my rest days currently: I tend to work on my dissertation, I’ve just started getting back into playing the piano after a 12-year hiatus! Catch up with friends (over FaceTime at the moment).
Most importantly I use rest days as an opportunity for my body to absorb all the training to reap the benefits in the future. After this injury I’ve also come to realise that it’s ok to have more than one rest day in the week if you need it. As elite athletes we often get very fixated on only have one day off a week and normally it’s Friday. You should do what’s right for you and your body. Be confident in your training and ability.’
Some find it difficult to take rest
Even though we know we should take rest days, and enjoy them, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds! Recent World half qualifier (postponed due to Covid-19), Hayley Carruthers has enjoyed slowing down a bit after initially finding it a challenge.
‘I have started doing 30 mins of yoga on my rest day and reading a lot! I’m really enjoying the slower pace of life. I’m working from home so that keeps me busy during the day. It was difficult at first to ‘rest’ because training is reduced but now, I’m really getting the hang of taking time for myself and feeling grateful to be healthy.’
Whether you enjoy your rest days or not, there is so much you can gain from implementing them into your regular training schedule. There is no frequency that works for everyone, so learn what works for you and keeps you feeling fresh physically and mentally.
Carfagno, D. and Hendrix, J., 2014. Overtraining Syndrome in the Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, [online] 13(1), pp.45-51. Available here.