Why such long recovery?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Last week, I wrote about how to recover after your final race of the year. However, I kind of glossed over why. I mentioned the physical and psychological demands taking a toll on anyone but I didn’t delve into these issues. I was privately called out on that so here it is. Why spend a month recovering, even if your race was shorter than a marathon? I’ll use myself as an example, seeing as I just finished my racing for the year with a 5K.

Most runners accept that, if you’ve run a marathon, you’ve placed a lot of stress on your body and you need a fairly significant amount of time to recover from it. But I just ran a 5K and I’m planning at least 4 weeks of recovery time. While running a 5K all out places a lot of stress on our bodies, recovering from the 5K itself surely isn’t going to take a month. So what am I doing?

I’m not planning to recover from just the race itself. I spent the past 11 months training extremely hard for the 2014 racing season. I don’t race as frequently as some people but I toed the line 8 times this year. The cumulative stress of 11 months of hard training and 8 races takes its toll on even the most resilient and motivated runner. Physically and mentally, I’m ready for a break.

Physically, it should be pretty clear. You’ve been training for months. Maybe 4 or 6 months. Maybe, as it is in my case, 11 months. Either way, you’ve been pushing yourself hard. You’re a dedicated runner as proven by the fact that you are questioning the need for a down period. While you’ve built yourself up to a high level of fitness, you’ve also built up your share of fatigue. You need to give yourself some down time to let your body get rested and refreshed.

It’s pretty common knowledge that runners after a marathon or at the end of a racing season are more susceptible to catching a cold. This isn’t because you were hanging around a lot of people on race day. It’s because your immune system is suppressed. Why do you think your immune system is suppressed? It’s because your body is fatigued and dealing with a lot of stress. This should tell you how much your body needs some rest at this point. Don’t ignore these signs.

As much as the physical aspect, if not more, we all need a mental break at times. Again, you’ve been pushing yourself hard for months. You’ve probably neglected some things you like to do because you didn’t have the time and/or energy to do them. You’ve spent a lot of mental energy focusing on your goals and on doing what you needed to get them. Be honest with yourself. How is your motivation right now? Not very good? Dont’ fight it. Give yourself the mental break you need. Go do something different. Take some time to think about what next year might bring but don’t worry about how to get there yet.

I’ve seen the result of not giving yourself enough time to rest and recover between seasons. You start off strong. You continue for a few months, then the drag starts. General fatigue may get you, injuries may creep up or you simply may lose that drive to keep going. Inevitably, something happens because you simply pushed too hard for too long.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you take a month off from the training, you’re giving up less than 10% of the year. You’ll come back at the end of that month rested, recharged and ready to attack that other 90% of the year. Your fitness will come back quickly and you’ll be far more ready to sustain high level training throughout the whole coming season.

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