The Importance of Recovery Runs and Rest Days

When we are feeling strong and healthy we tend to run more than we should. If we don’t include rest days and recovery runs in our training plan, we will be forced to take rest days when we get injured. Injuries are one of the very common issues of trail running when runners overtrain or don’t take enough rest days. Everything feels fine, then all of a sudden knees, Achilles or other muscles or joints are hurting. We have to keep ourselves motivated to stay healthy. For elite runners, hard training is an essential part of their training plan, but proper recovery is also an essential part of their training to keep them from getting injured and avoid any physiological breakdown.
We have to remember-“Kilometres make the runner, kilometres injure the runner, and injuries destroy the runner”. The ideal solution for trail runners is to use both full rest days and recovery-run days as part of the training plan.
Factors that forces the use of rest and recovery
Breakdown and recovery: Running for training often causes breakdown all the way from cellular levels to physiological systems that include muscles, organs and even the brain. Running many days in a row with some hard runs without any rest or recovery, the breakdown will build up until the performance lowers down and training becomes harder and counterproductive. The result; overtraining issues and injuries. The same intense training stress is also what builds up our muscles, stamina and performance, but only if proper recovery is included. Adequate rest and recovery allows the body to adapt to minor breakdown to come back stronger, that’s what leads to higher fitness levels. Smart recovery will make you stronger and healthier.
Running and impact forces: Running is a different sport than cycling or swimming, running involves impact forces. These impact forces increase breakdown, decreasing the amount of work you can do before getting injured. The most hours per week top runners can train is an average of 14 hours, top triathletes can train twice as much, swimming and cycling has very low impact. “Impact forces” from running is the reason why rest days are so important for runners. Most impact- related injuries develop over time, sometimes runners don’t feel the coming injuries until it’s too late, but once they reach a tipping point they appear very quickly. When rest days are used strategically according to the training plan, it will heal the coming injuries before you even know they exist.
Recovery run versus rest days: Some intense runners rely only on recovery runs “fake recovery days”. They substitute slower runs- 50%-75% maximum heart rate for true days off. Recovery runs can actually accelerate the recovery process by increasing blood flow, and they add some aerobic benefits. However, even though recovery runs are very efficient, they still involve impact forces to stressed bones, joints, tendons and ligaments. Even the slowest pace recovery run can cause stress fractures. Rest days might be a challenge for some intense runners, but to mentally train our brain to sink into a rest day every 7-10 days, will avoid getting injured.
Recovery run timing: The frequency of recovery runs depends on your training plan and how many days your run. First you should never do harder training sessions more than two days in a row if you are a strong-runner, spreading out the total running distance during the week will prevent injuries. Depending on how many days/week you run, you should include two-three recovery runs, and if you run seven days/week include three-five recovery runs.
Rest day timing: The recommendation for rest days is every 7-10 days for experienced runners. Having a rest day on Mondays usually works best as most trail runners train harder and longer distances on the weekend. For more beginner runners, injury prone runners, or over 50 years old runners, two rest days/week is highly recommended. On rest days, don’t just sit all day, make sure you move, walk, stretch, foam roll, do some strength training for the upper body without too much impact on the legs, yoga. Make sure you avoid any impact forces on rest days. Remind yourself how important recovery and rest days are.

Run Well, Rest Well, Feel Great!