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Posted: November 12, 2011  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" in 2010. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.
Leah is currently an Intern with Premium Client Services for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web. (Column Index)

Athletics: Reflection On The Importance Of Rest

This Friday was Remembrance Day. A day where we salute our soldiers and respect the sacrifices that were made and continue to me made for our freedom and safety. Unfortunately, sometimes we take for granted the peace and security that we have in Canada and we come to think of it as a given, an everyday aspect of our lives.

However, every Remembrance Day we wear our poppies proudly and we take a moment to reflect on the great acts of courage and bravery done by our men and women in uniform.

Reflection and remembrance is crucial for every aspect of our lives. To reflect on our history, our present, our future. We must also consider components of our day like our work, family, and running. We need to appreciate what we do, but also think ahead on how things can be improved or that need to continue. I took a moment this week and reflected on the past few months of my training and tried to acknowledge the things I have done, what I want to improve, and what I want to continue doing. By no means am I connecting what I do every day, to those of our Canadian Forces, but in the spirit of reflection and remembrance it got me thinking.

This fall was the first time I had a 9am-5pm Monday to Friday commitment, so trying to schedule in workouts was a challenge. I also had to rely quite a bit on self-motivation to get me out the door and keep me going. Upon reflection, I am quite pleased with what I was able to do, and I did get some quality runs in and, although not as much as I would have liked, I think it worked. I have moved up to consistently racing 5ks, so I think, long steady tempos should be added more often into my workouts, and perhaps I should run more often with my Garmin watch, to make sure that I am running at a consistent and appropriate pace.

However, this fall was weird too, because I had no end goal. By that I mean that I didn't have a National Championship race to strive for or I didn't really have an official "season." I did a few races in the summer and the Army Run in September, but there were times in the fall where I found myself asking, "What am I training for?" And that led me to continue to run, train, and go quite often by feel with no real "game plan."

Yet, what often got overlooked is the aspect of rest. I underestimated what a full time job takes out of you, and I underestimated the value of rest and recovery. Yes, I got lots of sleep and took days off and did yoga to recover, but I think we all need to remember that rest is an aspect of training and an important piece of our training puzzle.

When I do yoga, the teachers sometimes say at the end of class when we are in mediation, that the meditation at the end of class is the most important element. It is when the body rejuvenates and takes in all the benefits from the class. I roll my eyes (well, figuratively, because my eyes are closed). How could it be beneficial with me just lying here on my back? And sometimes, the guy next to me starts to snore?

But last week, leading up to my final road race this fall, my body started to feel less recovered after runs. I found myself looking at my watch about six minutes into a run. I was getting tired easily at night, and sometimes running just felt like a chore. So, I decided that my body was telling me to take it easy. This is exactly what I did this week.

At first, you feel antsy, and weird that you're not working hard enough. You can even feel guilty and blasé. But after a few days in, I was sleeping well, not tired at night, and some days- I really WANTED to start running again. I embraced the downtime.

I think we sometimes can get caught up in our training methods. We think that more is better and we take for granted the fact that we are healthy and injury-free, so we don't take the time to maintain that state, or to appreciate it. We just assume that we will always be invincible.

Most runners know that getting enough rest is vital to high-level performance, but a lot of us still over train and feel guilty when we take days off. But our body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts, and continuous training can actually weaken the strongest of athletes. Rest days are critical both physiologically and psychologically. In the worst-case situation, too few rest and recovery days can lead to overtraining syndrome - a difficult condition to recover from.

When we exercise, we breakdown muscle tissue and deplete our energy stores so recovery allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair those damaged tissues. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown. Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Long-term recovery refers to periods that are built in to a seasonal training program. Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. There are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it breaks down and risks injury; doing too much work too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage.

Sleep is one aspect that we all overlook. Consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. While no one completely understands the complexities of sleep, some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis. Other studies link sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion.

Some people like to boost that they run every day, 365 no matter what! Ron Hill, the British Olympic marathoner, has run every day since December 1964, includes running the day after a car crash in which he broke his sternum! But even the most elite runners take time off. Years of research negates the notion that a day off ruins fitness. Without recovery, adaptation may occur short-term, but eventually it will fail. And since most injuries come from overuse, rest can prevent three-or four-week forced breaks caused by, say, plantar fasciitis. Not pointing fingers at anyone (me).

I like rest days because mentally it allows me to work my butt off knowing that a recovery day is coming. You don't want to kill yourself knowing that the next day you have to do it all over again! We can catch up on sleep and nursed soreness with massage and light stretching. Then, we can start the new week physically and mentally restored—ready for whatever pain or suffering our coach has planned for us!

We live in a past pace world. One that requires us to often ignore what our body is telling us and forces us to GO GO GO! But we all need to take a moment and be thankful for our healthy bodies and the gifts that we have been given. We need to remember that we "train" which means running is an element, not the whole of the project. Rest, recovery, nutrition, sleep, balance- all make up our plan to reach the end goal of faster times and healthy, injury free bodies.

After this week, I did feel great! I am about to take on my first run with my friend since the break. We are going to hit up some trails where a cross country race was earlier this fall. Hopefully she doesn't drive me into the ground. Oh well, if she does, I'll just take tomorrow off, and possible the next day- just kidding. Rest well!!

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