Coach Mike Mead

May 2011

Rest & Recovery

One important aspect of running that is not fully understood by many runners is rest. That’s right, REST!

Runners are supposed to be in linear motion, not motionless. We were born to run; not to sit idle. Running is an action. Resting is, well, inaction. OR IS IT? Basically, every time we run, we tear down our muscles and it’s the rest and recovery that repairs the muscles that make us stronger the next time around. The matter of rest depends on the runner and his or her training.

For many runners, rest days are so misunderstood. In the beginning of a novice runner’s start, one tries to build up to a particular level of training by limiting the number of days that are devoted to rest and recovery. This is part of building strength. Take too many rest days and you’re pretty much spinning your proverbial wheels.

Take one Mark Covert from Lancaster, Calif. who I’ve had the pleasure meeting a couple of times. On July 23, 1968, he began a streak of running at least one mile without taking a day off. As far as I know, “the streak” is alive and well here in 2011!

Mark’s streak is not his greatest accomplishment. He was an NCAA Division II individual cross country champion for Cal State Fullerton in 1970 -- a mere two-plus years into his streak of consecutive days without a day off from running.

The point of Mark’s streak is that rather than take a day off completely, he at least got in a mile. That’s what we coaches call “active rest.” It could also be called a “recovery run” but perhaps more for beginners than the hard core types.

It’s one thing if you hold a streak like Mark Covert, but if you are building up to be a more competitive runner, a well-timed rest day is essential. Perhaps if Mark had taken a rest day here and there prior to his 1972 run in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials that there may have been a different outcome. Instead of finishing seventh, maybe he nabs a Top 3 placing and goes on to battle Frank Shorter in Munich?

It’s fun to speculate, but for developing as well as “seasoned” runners, taking a rest day or doing recovery activities is just as important in a runner’s development as a speed workout. Sometimes, in order to get faster, you just have to rest.

It’s one thing to get a little lazy with one’s training, but it’s another thing to take too many rest days. You’re only fooling yourself and hindering your progress. If you consider yourself a competitive runner, you should limit yourself to just a couple of rest days per month. If you truly need more rest, consider running one day, say at 6 a.m. The next day run later in the day, say at 6 p.m. This way you’ve given your body more than 24 hours of recovery without missing a day. However, if you become a lifetime runner, when you hit the age of 50 you will likely need to take more rest days than you are use to or you may just get sick or injured.

One just has to pay attention to his or her body. It will tell you when it needs rest, or active recovery. Mark Covert listened to his body and almost 43 years later he is still running. He may not be running at the rigorous pace of his youth, but he incorporated recovery runs that served as his rest days and did not interfere with his consecutive streak.

So as you prepare for that next big race, be sure you plan a rest day here and there. Good luck!