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Lynne’s Column for Week of November 29th : The Importance of Rest

Lynne Bermel

He's at it again. Today is supposed to be your easy day and who has to come by but you know who. Does he ever run easy?

You feel like you're barely moving when he whips by you. "Maybe you should pick it up," the inner dialogue begins, as it always does. "I can't just let him blow by me, can I? I'm supposed to be the faster runner. I usually finish minutes ahead of him in races, don't I?"

So, you start to pick up the pace. Your breathing is getting heavier, your legs start to burn. You're closing in on him. Another few steps and he's yours.

But wait. The inner voice takes hold again: "Wasn't this supposed to be my recovery day?" Ah…that pesky voice of reason. You back off. He's striding off into the horizon. He's won again. And you're the better for it.

Why do we find it so hard to stick to a planned recovery day? Why is it that even though we know it's not the right thing to do, we find ourselves getting dragged into somebody else's workout? Why is it that some people tear along at the same fast pace day after day yet never seem to get much better? Should we believe that honest group of training buddies when they say their "nice easy ride" won't turn into a hammer session the minute we leave the parking lot?

There are no easy answers. I'm willing to bet every serious athlete has, at one time or another, fallen prey to overtraining or getting caught up in the heat of the moment - training hard when they should be going easy. Ironically, one of the greatest challenges for a competitive athlete is to respect the very thing that will bring them long-term success: REST.

Our coach used to tell us that training was all about peaks and valleys. The more you push the upper limit; the more you need to recover at the other end. Sure, the hard days were very demanding, but they were always followed by easy days. And by easy, he meant recovery-pace easy.

He used to compare training to getting an innoculation. Just as you are given small doses of the disease so that your body creates antibodies to fight it; with training, you stress your body in small doses and it learns to adapt by resting between bouts. Interesting analogy. The benefit, said our coach, was not in having done the previous effort and survived but in being recovered enough to be able to go out and do it again.

One of the smartest athletes I've come across was a top vet cyclist I met Tucson, Arizona. He prepared his monthly programs so that they included a recovery week during every four week cycle. Even tough weeks were interspersed with almost painfully slow spinning sessions. He called them: "massage for the legs." If he was tired going into a hard workout, he'd either back off or write it off altogether. He'd never try and cram it in later in the week. He'd always say, once a workout is gone, it's gone. Trying to get it in later would only lead to overtraining, he'd say.

A friend of mine is living proof of the rest theory. He's running personal best times year after year, even though he holds down a labour-intensive job that usually means working night shifts. The key, he says, is in the rest. Especially as he gets older. He's now a masters runner.

He thinks nothing of taking 3-5 easy days between hard workouts. During a 10-day cycle, he might only have 2 hard workouts. The rest is all easy. He lives by his heart-rate monitor, especially on his easy days. It starts beeping the second he goes over the lower recovery zone. He finds this prevents him from going with the group when they start to pick up the pace on the so-called "easy days." They might leave him in the dust on the Sunday run but he's a step ahead when it counts - at the races.

I guess, like so many things in life, it doesn't have to be complicated. We could talk about rest at the cellular level, chemical reactions and all that jazz. It really all comes down to: Proper recovery in proper doses means you'll get stronger and realize your potential. Now what could be hard about that?

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