Do either of these “more is better” phrases sound familiar to you? “I want to run faster, so I’m going to skip the recovery day on my training plan and replace it with another tempo run.” Or, “I want to run farther, so even though I’m only getting six hours of sleep, I’m going to get up at 4 a.m. so I can add more miles to my run.”
If you’ve been running for awhile, they probably resonate as something you’ve said to yourself at least once in your running history. That’s because we runners pride ourselves on our ability to do hard things. We wake up early, we run the miles, we drink the coffee (only for those of us who like “the coffee,” of course), and, basically, we get things done. That’s why, sometimes, the hardest thing for runners is taking a break and letting our bodies recover — especially when our training is going well, we’re feeling good, and everything is firing on all cylinders.
But while we may feel like our dedication to our training plan and to getting the miles in at all costs is something to be admired, the truth is, many of us are missing a component of our plan that is absolutely critical to running faster and farther: the recovery.
The importance of adaptations
As runners, many of us hang our hats on our numbers — how many miles we typically run in a week, the farthest distance we’ve ever run, or how long it took us to run it. But for those of us committed to going farther and faster at all costs, we often neglect the recovery days in our plan that will actually help us improve.
Recovery days are vital to our training because they allow our bodies time to build themselves up to a place where they’re stronger than they were before.
Think about it: Exercise causes fluid loss, the breakdown of muscle tissues, and the depletion of energy stores. That means that if your plan has you doing two hard workouts a week — let’s say it’s a tempo run on Mondays and an interval run on Wednesdays — unless you take adequate time to recover from those workouts, your body doesn’t have time to restore itself. In essence, your body just keeps breaking down, which can lead to injury and illness.
When you take the time for rest and recovery after hard workouts, there are many different processes that take place within the body that enable you to show up to your next tough run stronger and better equipped to handle the heavier load. Some of those processes include the replenishing of energy (or glycogen) stores, the repairing of muscle fibers, and the production of new blood cells.
To put it simply, recovery days allow our bodies to adapt to the stress they’ve undergone and build themselves up to be stronger than they were before — so they can handle even more stress the next time, and to handle that stress more efficiently.
So, if you’re not just as dedicated to your recovery days as you are to your hard workout days, why aren’t you? Because, as we’ve just learned, they’re the only way you can actually reap the benefits of the work you just put in.
The running identity
Think back to the last time you hung out with other running friends on a Saturday night. Were you comparing how far you ran that morning, or how fast? (Be honest with yourself because we’ve all been there.) When your friend told you he ran 18 miles that morning while you were just humble bragging about running 15, did you feel a little wilted? Did you suddenly find yourself comparing yourself to your friend to determine why you don’t measure up and how you can push yourself to become as “good” as him?
If you did, you’re not alone. As a group, runners tend to care about numbers. We care about how many miles we ran on Saturday morning — at 5 a.m., in the snow, and by ourselves, we’ll have you know. We take pride in our numbers, and we like to share them when we can slide them into friendly conversations, especially with other runners. But what happens when you do? As in the example above, do you find you’re comparing yourself to another runner? Does it make you lose a little of the joy you often find in your runs, and make you want to push harder to get to where your friend is?
When that happens — when you become consumed by comparison and a desire to measure up to whomever you think is better than you — you run the serious risk of foregoing recovery in pursuit of “more is better.”
What you have to remember, though, is that we’re each on our own running journey, and that even on days when you recover — in fact, even on days when you do nothing that makes you break a sweat — you’re still a runner. No matter how many miles you log or don’t log, no matter how much or how little bling hangs on your wall, you’re a runner if you run. Plain and simple.
Recovery isn’t sexy, but it’s pretty stellar
How many hours you slept last night, that two-hour break you spent on the couch binge-watching “Schitt’s Creek,” or that five-mile run you fit in today just to hit the five easy miles in your plan aren’t necessarily what the kids of today would call “Insta-worthy.” So, no, you’re probably not going to find yourself inspired to post on social media on your recovery days. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less important than the days you find yourself persevering through a challenging run.
That’s especially true for those wondering why they’re not progressing in their running. Because we reap the rewards of workouts only during rest, in order to become stronger, fitter, and faster, we first have to break ourselves down, and then allow ourselves adequate time to build back up. It may seem counterintuitive, but we really can only get better if we let ourselves rest.
So this week, we challenge you to to post something you did to let your body recover — whether it was getting a few extra hours of sleep, switching a hard workout to an active recovery day because you felt like you needed more rest, or just taking a full day off of exercise completely, we want to hear about it.
Now get out there and run your life.
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