Whats The Benefit Of A Rest Week When Marathon Training?
I was asked a great question by one of my runners who has just started training for her first Marathon in April. She asked what the benefit was of gradually building up the long run and then reducing it every 3 or 4 weeks. Her previous experience was when training for a half marathon, she had simply built up her long run by adding 1 mile each week. This isn't the first time I have been asked this by a runner and I get various responses to rest days or rest weeks as running less is something that runners don’t like to do.
When putting together a marathon training plan I like to build in recovery and rest days in order to give my runners opportunity to recover from individual sessions., it also allows them the opportunity to listen to their bodies and if necessary the opportunity not to run and not feel bad about it.
Rest is one of my key sessions in all of my training plans as this is where the good stuff happens; it allows your body time to repair itself from the stress that you have been putting it under. This is a key principle of training overload and adaption. We want to stress the muscles that we want to change and the result of the stress is that the muscles are damaged. The result of the rest is that the muscles will repair and come back stronger and more ready to deal with the stress the next time. The trick is to stress them enough to make the changes but not enough to cause injury. So we increase the stress gradually overtime and our bodies become stronger and ready to deal with the next level of training.
Rest is so important but it doesn't mean that you have to sit on the couch to be able to recover properly. Active recovery is also ok, so if you want to take a day off its fine, although you could also go swimming or spinning. As individuals we all recover differently and so this can be trial and error as to how you react to the continual stress and how quickly you can recover from it.
The rest week is a continuation of this and I usually plan these for every 3 to 4 weeks. Building in a rest week helps to reduce any injury risk from the previous training blocks, I find it also has other benefits like increasing motivation after tough training blocks. It can allow you to spend more time with your family and thank them for the continued support now and to come. A disciplined break can help the body continue to repair from the metabolic damage you have been inflicting on it.
It can seem counter intuitive to runners, especially those taking on their first marathon but running less will make you stronger and its ok to take rest days. The trick is to make sure that you are completing your assigned training sessions at the correct paces so that you are getting the correct training adaption and therefore their is damage to repair.