Take a breather

Half a century ago, American marathoner Buddy Edelen snuck out for a 40-minute run on his rest day. Edelen was the first man to break 2:15 for 26.2 miles, yet he suffered the same crisis of confidence about taking days off that plague most competitive runners. ‘This is a manifestation of uncertainty,’ scolded Edelen’s coach, according to the Edelen biography, A Cold Clear Day by Frank Murphy (£12.70, Wind Sprint Press). ‘There is a time to train and a time to rest – not halfway rest.’

As Edelen no doubt felt, it’s tempting to focus your training on building towards harder workouts, and schedule rest when your body ‘needs’ it. Studies have found that inexperienced athletes make exactly this mistake, steadily increasing training until fatigue or injury forces them to stop – then repeating the cycle.

Experienced athletes deliberately plan their recovery. By taking a rest before it’s necessary, they end up accumulating more training overall. Since fatigue accumulates on different time scales – a long run may deplete your glycogen stores for the next day, while joint, tendon and muscle problems may emerge weeks later – start off by ‘periodising’ your recovery using the following cycles as your guide.

Microcycle length: seven days

The classic approach is to take one day of complete rest every week. But you may need to add rest days or alter their intensity. Logging less than 30 miles per week? Take two rest days. If you’re at 60 or more miles, schedule a full day off every other week but do one day of jogging or light cross-training during the ‘on’ week.

 Mesocycle length: between two to four weeks

Periodically reduce your mileage by 20 to 25 per cent for one week to consolidate gains. If you’re building up after a break, increase mileage by up to 10 per cent for three weeks before taking a down week. Once you’re back to pre-break mileage or at a mileage you’ve comfortably handled in the recent past, alternate two up weeks with one down week. If you’re pushing into new territory, alternate one up and one down. Resume mileage where you left off after the cut-back week.

Macrocycle length: between four to six months

Runners often race throughout the year without taking any significant breaks, which then leaves them vulnerable to injuries and burnout. Break the year into two or three macrocycles, each ending with a goal race followed by a week-long break. During that seven-day period, cross-train, rest and/or do light jogging (limit light jogs to four). Take one 14-day break every year – this includes one week of no running followed by a week of cross-training or easy jogging.

What kind of rest? Let your body dictate cross-training, light jog or day off.

IF YOU FEEL…

DO THIS…

Physically exhausted,
or especially achy

Complete rest. Don’t feel guilty: you need it

Stale and unmotivated

Active leisure. Go for a walk or leisurely bike ride, play tennis, have fun – but don’t train at the intensity of a run

Fatigue in muscles and joints
but otherwise fresh

Cross-train. Hit the bike, pool or elliptical machine

Fresh and ready to go

Light jog. Do up to 50% of the distance of a typical run at a super easy pace