Take a Break During Your Restorative Week

Welcome to the first “Restorative Week!”

If you’ve been following the 24-week marathon training program, you’re at the fourth week, which means it’s time to relax and cut back on your mileage for a bit. (The term Restorative Week is not one you’ll find in other training programs--I “borrowed” it from my yoga practice.)

What’s the rationale behind cutting back on the training effort once a month? Wouldn’t it be better just to keep on gradually increasing your mileage and effort throughout the training period?

Actually, no.

A vigorous training regimen is intended to put stresses on the body that will result in various physical adaptations, such as stronger muscles, increased oxygen uptake, improved ability to use fat rather than carbohydrates, and a bunch of other technical things I can’t pretend to understand. This is sometimes referred to as “getting into shape.”

While these are the desirable effects we’re after, it’s also true that a hard workout causes the body to suffer lactic acid buildup, tiny muscle tears, breakdown of red blood cells, and other unfortunate stuff. When someone trains too hard for too long, these minor negative consequences overwhelm the positive effects, resulting in chronic fatigue, persistent muscle soreness, susceptibility to colds and infections, and a feeling of what runners refer to as staleness. These are basic symptoms of “over-training,” and it can take several weeks of reduced training to fully recover from it. Pete Pfitzinger, exercise physiologist and two-time U.S. Olympics marathoner, wrote a helpful article on overtraining: Are You Overtraining?

Clearly the goal of a good training program is to strike a balance between the positive adaptations and the negative consequences that allow one to steadily improve one’s overall fitness level without becoming over-trained. For many years, the standard advice given to distance runners was to follow a “hard day, easy day” training plan; that is, to alternate a day of hard training with a day of easy running. While this is still advice that everyone should adhere to, research has shown that this simple “formula” is too simple.

Over an extended time period, a regimen of alternating hard and easy days (while gradually increasing the total weekly mileage to a level needed to run a marathon well) is not sufficient ing protecting against the accumulation of over-training effects in the body. Studies demonstrate that introducing a week in which the mileage is reduced to 60% or 70% of normal (and more or less eliminating the speed work that might be in the training schedule at the time) will greatly reduce the risk of over-training while letting the body continue to benefit from the training effects of the preceding weeks.

Finally, from my own perspective, I find that the regular “Restorative Week” benefits my mental attitude--the reduced mileage gives me a few extra hours that week to do other things that I enjoy. And, after the lighter week, I’m always itching to get back to longer, and harder, runs.

So, enjoy this week, but be ready to return to heavier training next week!

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