Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The Benefits Of Rest
At this very moment, at least two ultrarunners are in the foothills of the Appalachia Mountains, vying for the speed record for the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail. The current record is held by Joe McConnaughy who, in 2017, averaged more than 48 miles a day during his 45-day journey.
In theory, racing for weeks on end sounds exciting. Whether it is a 45-day race or four months of racing, the thrill of competition is something a runner craves. If ultramarathons aren’t your thing, you could very easily mimic the stress of an ultra through a rigorous training and racing schedule of your own. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend it.
As a runner, planning an off-season is just as important as planning your workouts. This planned time of recovery and rest, typically one to three months, is vital for your long-term health. Every hard workout and race taxes your mind and breaks down your muscles. Combined with smart recovery, this “breaking down” is the key way you can improve your speed and endurance. When you don’t give your body a break though, it can backfire in the form of serious fatigue, injury, illness or burnout.
If you’ve been a runner for a while, you’ve probably grown to tolerate pre-race anxiety. This feeling of anticipation is a normal part of the sport, but it’s also a reflection of just how much mental energy running requires. The determination, focus and grit that you summon during a race aren’t just readily available. By race day, you’ve honed those skills through consistent preparation. Ideally, you’ve spent at least a few months investing your mental energy in running.
Typically, the first sign that a runner has been in race-mode too long is decreased motivation. Think about it: If you never turn the light switch in your brain to the “off” position, your light starts to flicker. You might start to doubt your ability or your desire to run; you might experience a dullness when it comes to your race focus and execution. If those symptoms continue, it’s probably your body’s way of telling you, “This is too much. I’m tired!”
The other, more obvious, benefit of an off-season is that it provides physical rest. Trading hard workouts and races for lighter, less strenuous running, helps your body recoup from the physical demands of racing. Most likely, it also provides you with a little more time on your plate, which you can use to address any weaknesses you have noticed in your strength or flexibility.
The competitive aspect of running is one of the most thrilling endeavors in the world. Every race is a difficult battle and every finish line is its victory cry. In order to protect the many victories in your future, give your body rest. Plan for a season of more moderate training so that you can effectively ramp up when it’s time to prepare for your next race. When your off-season is over and you’re ready to jump into your next training cycle, you should be ready. Your body and mind will be refreshed and you’ll be dreaming of—not dreading—the starting line.