After spending the past year suffering from chronic running injuries, I’ve decided to incorporate an extra day of rest into my training plan.
I used to take two days of rest, back when I was just getting into running and not seriously training. However, when I ran my half-marathon PR of 1:43 at the DC Rock n Roll race following a 5-day-a-week training plan, I thought five days of training was the secret sauce of my sport.
Looking back, history has taught me differently. And a lot has changed since that PR. Not only have I suffered two serious stress reactions, I’ve also had major life changes — a full-time job, the responsibilities of marriage and home ownership, the adoption of two dogs. All of these changes have required me to put forward more energy every day, and I only have so much energy to expend. (It’s not like I’m a professional athlete whose only job is to run and recover from those runs!) My husband, Blake, has been trying to tell me this for the past year. Only recently did I listen.
Tired of the injuries — which have tried to return yet again this season despite a low-mileage plan and a willingness to listen to my body — I knew it was time to heed his advice. While rest days can be difficult for us athletes to take, the benefits are endless.
Physically, our muscles are given the chance to repair. In doing so, they actually grow stronger. Mentally, we get a day to focus on other passions and gain a greater love for our sport, following the old adage “distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Many athletes rue their rest days, taking them because they should, but I’ve come to embrace them. They are the days when I get to sleep in, fill my afternoons and evenings with something other than running, and let my body and mind restore themselves.
I don’t sit around like a couch potato on my rest days. I still remain rather productive, but I focus my energy on other important aspects of my life. Here are 7 ways to best spend your rest days:
1. Sleep in.
Or at least take a nap. As runners, we’re often up before dawn or hopping in the shower long after the sun’s gone down because we were logging our miles. Catch up on those hours you’ve missed due to training and reap the benefits of sleep while also reaping the benefits of your rest day — who doesn’t love a twofer?
2. Go for a leisurely walk.
Light activity is perfectly acceptable for rest days. It delivers blood to your muscles, helping them flush out waste and toxins. It also allows your body and mind to feel the goodness of movement without the stress of running.
There’s no reason to force yourself to sit inside on a beautiful day, or leave your dogs whining at the front door, because you have to rest. Just be sure to keep the walks easy and relatively short.
3. Clean your house.
And do your laundry because runners tend to have A LOT.
Between work and running, I’m beyond busy during the week, but I refuse to save all of my chores until the weekend (who wants to spend their weekends doing chores?)
Put your second rest day during the week and get those chores done as soon as you get home — just like you would with your run — so they’re done and you can enjoy your next rest day at a clean house!
4. Spend extra time with loved ones.
Make your rest days your date night or the time you gather with friends and family. So often, we have to say no to plans because we have a long run the next day or are too tired from our last training session. Give your loved ones the time and energy they deserve without draining yourself in the process.
5. Get mobile.
As mentioned above, light exercise is okay. Mobility exercises are an extremely beneficial way to maintain a bit of activity on your rest days because they allow you to focus on the muscles you so often neglect — calves, shins, hips and feet.
Aim for 20 minutes of mobility exercises on your rest days to keep injuries at bay.
6. Cook or bake something special.
My husband does all the cooking in our house, in part because by the time dinner rolls around I’m stepping through the door feeling ravenous after my evening run. However, a day off gives me the perfect excuse to get in the kitchen.
Don’t use this time to whip up something unhealthy. Instead, use it to plan your meals for the week or prepare a special breakfast you’ll look forward to eating before your morning runs.
7. Run the errands you never have time for.
I HATE running errands after work, even if the store is on the way home. All I want to do after work is relax and enjoy life. However, when I get a few extra hours back on the evenings I’m not running, I use that time to check those pesky errands off my to-do list.
If you’re an injury prone runner, I highly recommend a second weekly rest day. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and realize that not every body can run five to six days a week. I’ve come to realize that four is my best number. Three is too little for me to make the gains I want, but five is too many and puts me on the cusp of injury.
When looking to follow an intermediate or advanced training plan, you’ll find that they often only have one rest day built in. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow these plans. It just requires you to cut out a day of easy or junk miles. I promise you that those miles aren’t essential to you racing well. In fact, they may very well be preventing you from doing so.
Are you an injury prone runner? How many rest days do you take a week? Do extra ones help?