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Rest and grow stronger

by Robert Britton
Friday 7th February 2014
Tags  Robert Britton   |   inov-8   |   Team Centurion

Robert Britton, member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad, Team Inov-8 and Team Centurion, explains why rest is not only enjoyable but also an important part of your training

What is the most important session within a training plan? Which one is going to make us stronger athletes, faster runners and better people?

In my opinion it's the Rest Day. An oft neglected, but integral part to any training plan, regardless of the distance you are running and, quite frankly, my favourite session of them all. Who doesn't like sitting down and watching some Blue Mountain State or Cougar Town?

Let's get any science out of the way early on this one and, at the risk of oversimplifying, here it is.

Want to get faster? Speed Work breaks down muscle. Rest allows it to build back stronger.

Want more endurance? Run longer efforts, push your limits of distance and tempo. Muscle breaks down. Rest allows it to recover before you do any further damage.

Many elite levels runners may have rest days that are few and far between but rest doesn't have to be stationary, it can just be the reducing of the quantity, intensity or frequency of your efforts. I prefer to have all three with a complete day off but many will just reduce the intensity & length of the run on a day off.

Rest and grow stronger

Photos: Well earnt rest - Steve Holyoak (3rd on the Spine recently) and Robbie resting after the Basel 24hr race. Robbie resting after Spartathlon in 2013

For most of us the lifestyle of a full time athlete is not something that is possible (although I'm working on it!) and the rest we get will generally tend to be of a poorer quality than that of the likes of Wilson Kipsang and Mo Farah. We can't all get on the underwater treadmill to put in our extra miles and get wonderful people like Simon Lamb (www.sixsecondshigh.com) working their magic on a daily basis.

Many of us will squeeze in as many miles as possible into the weekend, because that's when we have time, and miss out on sleep rather than miss a training session. This is why Monday has always been a rest day for me, something I look forward to because I make sure my body has earned it and needs it. Monday is a happy day.

It infuriates me when people run ultra marathons and then feel the need to run the next day to keep up their "run streak" rather than listen to their body and give it the rest it deserves. Especially those who cannot complete a race and then feel the need to run and Tweet about it the day after. If your body could Tweet it'd probably appreciate #onyourarseMondays.

Running 365 days a year because your body can is fine for some people, doing it to keep up a run streak, risking injury and illness after DNFing races is not very sensible. I like a break from running each year, a few weeks doing something different to mark the end of the season and the start of the next one.

As a rough rule of thumb for ultra running I like Paul Navesey's "1 day off for every 10 miles raced" as a guideline and then listening to how my body feels, not pushing heavy cross training onto it or rushing back because I'm worried about what my rivals are doing. They're missing out on quality Canadian Comedy whilst my body is getting strong again.

Cross training is excellent for ultra runners but remember the intensity. If your body needs a rest, don't hit it with high intensity bike workout, have a gentle bike ride and get the blood flowing. Also yoga, pilates (Not Body Pump Rick Ashton) on a rest day is fine, as long as there isn't a 30km cycle to and from the yoga class. That's not resting.

Everybody trains differently and many runners will cope well with reduced sleep, no rest and back to back hard races and training, but is it just about coping? Patience is key and watching your ability grow steadily over the years is better than burning out after 24 months?

Sticking in back to back days of hard sessions, speed work, hills, tempo is also going to be a sure fire way to spending 6 months on the couch, rather than one day. If you can really chuck in a set of 800m reps the day after a hill session then did you really push it hard enough on those hills?

Earn an easy Wednesday.

Chrissie Wellington talks in her book about "rest being the fourth triathlon discipline" and if sitting down and watching a film with your family can count as a training session then that has to be good right? Make it a weekly thing and earn those dirty weekends away on the trails.

So what works for me may not be for everyone but rest is often the most underrated aspect of training for ultra marathons. "I need to be used to running on tired legs" is a reason often given. That is fine every now and again but not for every session. Some sessions we need to be fresh to get the most out of them.

If you want to get faster, then rest and grow stronger. It's nice to get to a start line uninjured.


About The Author

Robert Britton

Robbie is a 100 mile runner who is a member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad and Team Centurion and likes to run ridiculous distances as quickly as possible.

To provide enough food to feed a monster running habit, Robbie coaches other ultra marathon runners through www.robbiebritton.co.uk and is also a member of the coaching team at Centurion Running. He likes to dabble with a bit of writing so that others can learn from his mistakes and enjoy the sport as much as he does.

Robbie is also a is a Profeet ambassador.


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is just part of the fun"


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