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Rest, Recovery & the Runner. Essential? Extra? Or Every bit as important as the run?

August 10, 2018



This is something that Actors speak of and do actively. 

But it is something that the majority of us find very difficult to ‘find time for’.

As Runners, we lean towards total disregard for it. 'If we are not running, we are not runners!' 




Well, this is a thing that Runners do get involved with. We like to do this actively but it can be the thing that takes away rest and true recovery. Could we be doing a little too much active recovery? 


So, what exactly is the difference between Rest and Recovery and how do they benefit the Runner? 


Now, I am no scientist, but I have been in a working partnership with my body for well over 25 years and I think I have a) figured out the difference between these two and b) figured out the benefits. I now know when to stop, when to sleep, when to move and when to bend. For those parents among us, this process is a little like baby led weaning and you have to be willing to meander along rather than taking the most obvious and direct route. Swap 'baby' for 'body' and you follow what the body wants to help itself back to full power. 


Let's talk through Recovery first. For me, this translates as a 're-finding' of effort and is done by re-visiting what caused the fatigue. Recovery is a little like grief; to over come it, we must face the experience again. Or, as we like to call it 'Active Recovery'. This is where the baby led weaning style can be used. Ask your body how it feels and if it can face the impact of a run in the rain or would it prefer a yoga class in the dry? Hmmmm? What we are actually asking is 'Where does the tiredness sit in the body and what would be the best tool (activity) to clear it? 


Your body answers with 'A run please!' This doesn't mean I am about to head out and re-create (lots of 're-' going on here. Take note.) the last training session or run with as much gusto as I did initially. No! This means I am going to lace up and head to a route with a less ferocious gradient and run it at a very steady pace. Technically, a recovery run is described as 'having no aerobic benefit'. Many of you will ask at this point 'Then why do it?' (I'm coming to that in a minute*.) In returning to exercise, the muscles and the mind re-visit their 'trauma' and realise that things aren't so bad after all. *They are moved through their paces again, encouraging an increase in heart rate and circulation, which can then deal with helping the body to clear out the aches, pains and damage and get the healing process off to a strong start. 


So, that was the first part of active Recovery.

I always consider after care (the extra bits we do once the sweaty kit hits the washing basket and we've finished a pint of milk and eaten a banana), the link between Recovery and Rest. For me, the way we thank the body for it's commitment to training is what makes it want to get up and do it all over again. If we don't reward the efforts of the body we don't do much to aid the Recovery process that we started with our recovery run. Therefore, the body needs a period of stillness where it can relax and flag up any deeper aches that the active recovery released. 


It is at this point where taking the radio and a mug of tea upstairs to a deep, warm, salt-laden bath comes in. Now, many of you say' oh, I'm not really a soak in the bath type' and yet are you the ones still dealing with sore muscles 3 days after the training session? I'm not saying a salty bath is the be-all and end-all for tired legs, but it might be worth a try. (There are only so may times you can go down the stairs backwards at work before questions start being asked!)


Ok, you're out the bath and feeling relieved. Surely this Recovery process can't go on much longer? Or can it.... Well, you can add a rub down with your sports massage therapist to every 4th week? Or, climb into your compression sleeves after each run? KT Tape works better for some in recovery than in training, so if those calves are aching, stick some on. (Youtube has some fab taping explanations.) Lather yourself in Arnica and Comfrey salves (always read the label)? It really is up to you how you do it but taking care YOUR body can only be a good thing, surely? It is the only one you have and it's an amazing piece of kit. (Nike don't make spares. Yet.)


The other side of the coin here maybe those hard arses saying that all the above simply puts in a crutch and that we are stronger than that. All these things cause an issue when we don't have them or have access to them. Perhaps. But what works for one Athlete may not work for the next. Personally, I want to be running in my 80's, so if I can keep myself running injury free for the next 50 odd years, I'll take the warm bath please! 


The gap has been bridged and we have arrived at Rest. Phew!

If you are, as is the case with most runners, someone that is predominantly an active sort, then the idea of rest probably comes in the form of something active. This is where I want to try and change your mindset a little.  I return to the Actor analogy from the opening paragraph. When an Actor rests (though they may be out of work, but let's be kind and say the show in the West End just closed after a successful 6 month run) they will spend time sleeping, eating, taking in other forms of culture, possibly travel, see friends who aren't actors.... this all sounds like quite a pleasant way to spend time doesn't it? But what they are not doing is acting.  And, believe it or not, this all feeds into their craft, thus making them better at what they do.

Let's translate this to us runners.


Eating and sleeping? We have that down! No one eats like a runner (well, any Athlete actually), we love doing it! Sleep? If you have slotted in your after care post active recovery, then this should be no trouble at all. Then comes the tricky bit: NOT RUNNING. NOT BEING ACTIVE. I mean doing nothing. Physically stopping the rhythm of a persistently moving body, gives it time to take in, take on and sometimes chuck out, all of the stuff you tried to teach it and got it to do over the last training sessions.

It allows us to make sense of something we tried by giving ourselves physical distance from it.

An Athlete who is self coaching needs to find space between their subject and themselves, to enable thought to mature and questions to be asked. If there are no questions, what will training be about next time? What element of your training will you know to adapt? On Rest days, I try not to read, watch or listen to anything about Running. I don't look at Running pages or engage in chat rooms about the sport. I step away and stick a Radio 4 comedy on, look at a book on herbs... you get the idea. 


So, we Train (Run). We Recover (Re-visit). We Rest (Rest). 

This cycle doesn't have to be drawn out over days. It can be slotted into your training pattern. Neither does your training have to roll over a 7 days either. Why not make it a 10 day plan? Making the time for quality Recovery and Rest. 

We all get older (well, our bodies do anyway) and the more we do to keep those bodies capable and resilient when in action the better.  Much of what happens in the race or the training, begins in the mind. That is where we make the decision to run. With time away from the run, a better, less hectic plan of approach can be made. If we can relax a little on the way to the finish line, we might just have a better time and not just in the PB sense of it. 





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