March 28, 2012

Radical running idea: a rest day!

What's radical about a runner taking a rest day, you might wonder. I couldn't agree more; rest days are crucial for recovery, allowing your body to absorb the training. Until the start of this year, I had rest days—i.e. days without running—every week.

In fact, until July 2011—only nine months ago—I had never run more than five days a week. Nor had my weekly running volume exceeded 90K; I had done 13 marathons by then, of which I had completed the last nine between 3:07:10 and 3:15:13 since July 2006.

A year ago, my marathon build-up for Vancouver consisted of running only four days a week, compared with the five days a week I had been doing in the previous four years. I ran 3:07:41 at the 2011 Vancouver Marathon, my second-fastest time marathon ever and closing in on a 2008 PB of 3:07:10.

Vancouver had been my first marathon in a year as I was rethinking my approach to training after finishing the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2010 in 3:11:51. In the meantime, I refreshed my enthusiasm by trying something different; a 50-mile trail race in August 2010, followed by a 100K road race in November that year.

In July last year I began running six days a week, covering about 100K on average. I ran a PB of 3:06:06 in the Victoria Marathon in October, two weeks after a 3:09 in the Bellingham Bay Marathon. (Bellingham had been my goal race but a couple of things didn't go my way on the day).

I took two months to recover from the two marathons, though I also ran another 50-miler on trails at the start of November. In the ultra, my body made clear that it wasn't in the mood for a good, i.e. fast, time so I walked a lot in the final 25K. And I was amazed at the fact that I felt good until about 55K, four weeks after a hard marathon double.

I was intrigued by the potential to boost my training volume further; running is like a personal science project. Everyone is different so, while there is plenty of conventional wisdom to apply and advice to follow, you don't know what your body is capable of until you try. It's exciting to try something new.

"Wonder is a bulky emotion. When it fills your heart, there is little room for anything else," writes Diane Ackerman in the fantastic An Alchemy of Mind.
Since my 18-week preparations for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6 began at the start of 2012, I have followed my training program, with at least one run a day, to the letter. Since January 1, I have run 1,473K in 86 days. With the exception of January 14, I have run every day.

Until yesterday, I had run 71 days in a row, covering 1,267K, or an average of nearly 18K each day.

Just as it is hard to get into the habit of following a training program, it can be challenging to let go of a schedule. A certain amount of obsession is needed to stay on track for a challenging goal, which is what a Sub-3 marathon is for me.

From January 1st until March 26, I had only missed three easy sessions: a 10K recovery run on January 14, an afternoon recovery run of 6K on March 19 and another 6K afternoon recovery run on March 26, on Monday (I still ran 10K on the latter two days in the morning.) Missing 22K compared with the 1,473K I have run this year, or an average of 120K per week in each of the past 12 weeks, is negligible.

While my body has been feeling anywhere between good on days and fantastic, I have also noticed an increasing level of fatigue. It's only natural, considering my training. However, as you may have noticed, two of the three missed runs were in the past eight days.

My marathon preparations, with a record volume, have gone so superb that I do not want to risk all that hard work by pushing my body over the edge. I can tell it is on the edge, especially after a 10K race on Saturday, followed by a 29K run on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, my legs had a type of fatigue and tightness that I don't like feeling.

So, after 71 days of running daily, I somewhat reluctantly decided to take yesterday off: no running. While I felt bad for missing a day in what was meant to be my second-biggest week in terms of volume, I think it's OK to take a second rest day in 12 weeks. Still, it seemed like a tough call since I am healthy and could have gone for a run.

Yet I have to remind myself that it is only for the first time that I am running daily; my body has responded well. So has my mind, as I love the commitment and truly enjoy the sessions. But there's no point risking all that superb training just for the sake of being obsessed with keeping a string of daily runs alive.

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