Time to Rest?
Pay attention to 10 body indicators to gauge when to run and when to back off. By Jayme Otto the June 2011 issue of Runner’s World
After disappointing performances in a couple of key tune-up races last fall, a depleted Ryan Hall made the hard decision to withdraw from the Chicago Marathon. Too many grinding 15-mile tempo runs at a five-minute-per-mile pace at 7,000 feet with too little rest afterward had finally caught up with him. “I love to push my body,” he says. “Recovery is the hardest part of training for me.”
Problem is, if you don’t take time for proper R&R, your body won’t adapt to the stress of your training—you won’t get stronger or faster, explains Stacy Sims, Ph.D., at the Stanford Prevention-Research Center, School of Medicine. Neglect recovery for too long, and you will start to lose strength and speed. You’ll sink into the black hole known as overtraining.
First, your sleep patterns and energy levels will feel the effects. Eventually, your immune system crashes, and you lose your appetite. It’s like burning out your engine. And you don’t have to be logging 100-mile weeks to suffer. Recreational runners can overtrain, too. “With deadlines, chores, bills, kids, and lack of sleep, it’s more challenging to recover properly from your runs,” says Sims.
So in preparation for the 2011 Boston Marathon, Hall used an online recovery-tracking program called Restwise, which looks at simple biological markers input by the athlete first thing each morning, calculates a daily recovery score from 1 to 100, then trends it over time. (Rest-wise subscriptions start at $119 for six months; go to restwise.com.)
Pay attention to the following 10 markers. If three or more of these indicators raise a red flag, you should consider a few easy sessions or off days so you can return to running strong (see box, right). Says Hall, “Now I’m learning to love to rest.”
1 BODY MASS: You lost weight from yesterday A two percent drop in weight from one day to the next indicates a body-fluid fluctuation. Most likely, you didn’t hydrate enough during or after your last workout. Dehydration negatively impacts both physical and mental performance, and could compromise the quality of your next workout.
2 RESTING HEART RATE: Your resting heart rate is elevated Take your pulse each morning before you get out of bed to find what’s normal for you. An elevated resting heart rate is one sign of stress. It means your nervous system prepared for fight or flight by releasing hormones that sped up your heart to move more oxygen to the muscles and brain. Your body won’t know the difference between physical and psychological stress. A hard run and a hard day at work both require extra recovery.
3 SLEEP: You didn’t sleep well or enough A pattern of consistently good sleep will give you a boost of growth hormones, which are great for rebuilding muscle fibers. Several nights in a row of bad sleep will decrease reaction time along with immune, motor, and cognitive functions—not a good combination for a workout.
4 HYDRATION: Your pee is dark yellow This can be an indicator of dehydration, barring the consumption of vitamins, supplements, or certain foods the evening before. The darker the color, the more you’re struggling to retain fluids, because there’s not enough to go around. You need H2O to operate (and recover).