Most distance runners are a pretty lazy bunch. Not when it comes to getting off the couch, logging miles, pumping iron and paying attention to all the details of being an elite athlete. I mean lazy in the “beauty” department. For runners, dressing up means putting on clean yoga pants, a hoody and throwing the hair in a messy pony tail and heading to Starbucks. Do you actually think runners should be normal people and spend more than 5 minutes total showering, dressing, doing hair, and possibly, gasp, make-up before going to the grocery store to buy more Gatorade and Cliff Bars? No sir, there are more important things to do with life. What’s the point of effort spent on looks when in mere hours sweat and spit will be dribbling down your face again? At least my dog agrees.
Enter stage left: Day Off.
A day off is glorious in so many ways, not the least of which is getting dressed only once instead of the usual four times. To celebrate a day off, I have even been known to put a bit more effort into my ponytail. However, contrary to popular belief, a day off was not invented to catch up on basic hygiene and social norms of living in a society that values how you look more than how fast you run. It is, in fact, intented for recovery and regenerative purposes. And here I would say there are two distinct camps of athletes: those who do it, and those who distain it.
Most power-speed and technical event athletes take 1-2 days off a week without question. (But then they also take 15 minute set rests…). My friend, pole vault sensation and 6th place finisher at the 2004 Olympic Games, Stephanie McCann, typically only trained Monday to Friday. She approached her training like a work week: full time during the week with weekends off for other pursuits. Not that she was ever entirely “off” because she was always dedicated to her nutrition, sleep, stretching, etc., but at least she can give her Central Nervous System a break. However, distance runners are unique to most sports because of the amount of work we can do unsupervised. Most sports/events require significant more technical feedback: injuries and poor form can result from training without the watchful eye of the coach. And we all know that coaches need breaks too.
But runners run. There is a firmly held belief (and some evidence) that the more you run, the faster you will become; as such, most distance runners hate to take days off believing that all the hard work of the previous ten will be for naught.
At times I have been sucked into the vortex of “day off” distain. This usually happens when I am either at a training camp and feel a day off is a waste of time, or when I am competing so often that every day is a race, a light pre-race day or a post-race recovery day. My mileage and training intensity is down and my competitions are the “only” hard effort of the weeks. I usually avoid days off and instead take “recovery” or “shake-out” days to move the blood and lactic acid around, as well as to not get too lathergic.
For most of the training season though, I do adhere to a day off policy. As an athlete who has now suffered through numerous injuries, I take a day off for preventative measures. I would rather take a day off every 7 to 10 days than be forced to take a big chuck of time off with a preventable injury. A day off is also very important for me to feel fresh and energized again in my training. I can focus on the last days leading up to a day off and remain diligent in all my efforts, knowing that there will be a day that I will wake up and not put on running clothes. I usually avoid physiotherapy, massage or yoga on those days as well. I want to give my central nervous system, muscles, tissues, facia, and brain a complete rest. And the next day, I usually feel like a new runner again.
Where and when to take a day off can sometimes be a dilemma. I prefer not to take a day off immediately following a hard interval session. However, I do not mind taking one the day before a hard training session, as long as I am working out in the afternoon so I get a morning run in first to get the legs moving first. I often find that unless I have had a really brutally tough training week, every 10 days is the right work to day off ratio for me. My American super star friend, Lauren Fleshman, typically takes a day off every week. And rumour has it that “the Paula Radcliffe model” is a day off every eight, meaning she can still log a full week, take a day off, and then start a new training week. I hope you are seeing a trend with these examples. Top runners do plan days off training (injuries and illnesses do not count!). Secondly, like training itself, the frequency and timing of a day off in the training schedule should be adapted to the individual.
Post your thoughts on the Day Off here…because even if we happened to run into each other on a day off, we would not recognize each other in our socially acceptable civilian attire. Time for me to get out of yoga pants and upgrade to jeans today…and do my errands in style!