The Frequently Ignored, Often Forgotten Component of Marathon Training: REST By Marianne Harris, RN, ADN

Every marathon-training program consists of basic training components that build endurance and speed in runners. Endurance is defined as the power to withstand hardship or stress. Simply put, the components of marathon training consist of:

1. Running scheduled mileage, tempo/speed work and hill training
2. Cross training
3. Stretching, warm-up
4. Nutrition/Hydration
5. Rest

While all of these training components are important and will help get runners to their targeted marathon well prepared, healthy and injury free; adequate rest can be an often forgotten training component. Adequate rest decreases the chances of incurring a running injury and injury prevention is a primary concern for every runner. If a runner is injured and cannot train, the other training components don’t really matter.

REST: REST includes sleep and scheduled days off from running. REST is intended as a recovery from intense marathon training. Sleep allows your body to repair itself from the rigors of training.

There are two types of recovery Active and Passive:

Active Recovery is exercise that is performed at a significantly lower intensity than your run training pace. For example, walking, spinning with no tension, yoga, swimming, stretching, and even SLOW running are forms of active recovery.

Passive Recovery is rest, meaning that you are NOT substituting another workout for running. Use passive recovery to spend time with your family or friends, pursue other interests or hobbies, or just have some down time to relax and unwind.

Runners new to marathon training often get caught up in the enthusiasm and excitement of beginning a new and different running program. They often increase mileage too quickly, over train and ignore signs of inadequate rest- all with best of intentions, of course! Unfortunately, they can find themselves injured and unable to even toe the starting line of their chosen race.

Veteran runners can be guilty of pushing themselves too hard as well. Veteran runners often ignore signs of over-training and inadequate rest as they pursue a PR or add another state to their running resume.

So how do we know what our limitations are? What factors may indicate inadequate rest?

  • You feel fatigued all the time. You are tired in the morning and throughout the day and have no energy.
  • Your track workouts are consistently slower instead of maintaining or improving.
  • Your legs are heavy, and stay heavy throughout your run, even after a nice warm-up.
  • You no longer enjoy running and you dread every workout. You become discouraged and tired… You just want to shut off the alarm clock and go back to sleep…your enthusiasm has disappeared!
  • Your resting heart rate is elevated. Resting Heart Rate is your heart rate upon awakening and before getting out of bed in the morning. Elevation of 10 beats or more from what it normally is may indicate fatigue, dehydration, and/or the early stages of a virus (ie… flu).

Marathon training, at best, is very physically demanding. Physical demands place stress on our bodies. It is well-known that stress affects the body’s immune system. Add extreme temperatures, loss of fluids on long runs, lack of sleep, over-training and it is no wonder that the body becomes vulnerable to electrolyte loss and dehydration, cramping, injury, illness, fatigue, etc. That being said, what is a marathoner to do?

Carefully plan and execute your marathon training schedule. Plan days off, plan recovery days! “Take a day off”… that phrase no marathoner wants to hear. A day off means a day OFF… passive recovery. Canceling your run and replacing it with a long hard bike ride is not a day off or passive recovery. It’s not even active recovery! It’s trading one hard workout for another hard workout. Give your body a REST. Schedule recovery days and days off just as you schedule a long run or a speed workout. You may even need more than a day… especially if you are injured or ill.

Sleep is also an important part of REST. Sleep means sleep. Schedule sleep time just as your schedule your training time. Most athletes need a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. Weeks of too little sleep and intense training make the body vulnerable to injury and illness. Planning your sleep time will allow you to make those early workouts!

Suggestions for 1st time Marathoners

  • Be realistic in your time. goals (ex: a 3:45 1st time marathon finish may not be a realistic goal if your 5k time is 27:00 minutes)
  • Don’t increase mileage too quickly.
  • Take time off if you are injured. See a physician for a proper diagnosis!!
  • Pay attention to how your body feels (good or bad) and don’t rely on gadgetry.
  • Allow your body to recover from hard workouts

Suggestions for Veteran Marathoners

  • Often with more miles logged, comes more chronic injuries. More mileage does not always translate into faster marathon times.
  • Take time to have chronic problems followed-up and rest if necessary.
  • Be realistic in your training goals. Taking 15 minutes off your marathon time is reducing your pace per mile over 30 seconds. Will that be a realistic goal?
  • Try alternating your marathon training with a half marathon training session once in a while… just to give your body a break from the long miles and focus on speed. It feels good to want to run more.

Taking advantage of REST (ie… sleep, passive and/or active recovery) can improve your marathon training and get you to the starting line in good health and injury free.

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