Running through the suburbs of Johannesburg on Monday I couldn’t help but notice that I encountered far fewer runners than I normally do on my morning run.
It soon dawned on me that it was a Monday, and many runners select this first day of the week as their official, permanent rest day.
I’m guilty of the same habit. I’ve just completed a series of training programmes for my running club Team Vitality and carefully typed in, on every Monday on every schedule, is the word “REST”.
For thousands of runners, the Monday rest day has become a habit. It is a reward for a prior week of hard work and possibly for a long tough Sunday run.
But is it strictly necessary?
There are a number of well known elements to every training schedule. These include speed work, stamina training, and endurance and strength work.
But what many runners struggle to understand is the equally important role that rest and recovery play in every training programme.
In fact, the role of rest and recovery in a training programme is often poorly understood and in many cases rest is a four letter swearword equated with laziness and distraction.
We only build fitness by working hard and then resting properly. The journey to fitness is not a steep angled line soaring ever upwards to a peak, but rather a series of steps with each step followed by a plateau of rest. And rest comes in many guises.
It can, indeed, be a day or longer of no running at all. For many runners, particularly the elite, it can also be a gentle-paced run over a short distance or it may express itself in a cross training exercise such as swimming or cycling.
But rather than schedule a rigid “once a week, Monday rest day” I prefer my body to tell me that it needs a rest.
The signs are obvious:
1 – Dead legs that feel heavy and lifeless and have no spring or zip in them. I call this leaden sensation “The Plods”. Carry on running and in a day or two “the plods” become the “super-plods”.
2 – Aches and pains in the legs, and little niggles felt anywhere from hamstring to toe. Not quite injuries yet, but threatening.
3 – A cough, sniffle or scratchy throat.
4 – Despite feeling exhausted, an inability to fall asleep immediately your head hits the pillow.
5 – A lethargic unenthusiastic mood at the thought of a run. A lethargic unenthusiastic mood at the thought of the Comrades Marathon.
Of course, sometimes rest may not be the answer and we may be guilty of simply being lazy or, the “niggles” may be imagined or exaggerated.
So I recommend that every runner in doubt about whether or not to train should conduct the Joe Henderson 10-minute test.
Joe is one of the wise men of running and has been a runner, a coach, and a running writer and commentator for over 40 years.
He introduced the 10-minute test to running when he once wrote that no matter how tired, heavy-legged and unenthusiastic he felt he would still set off and run for 10 minutes.
If he still felt dreadful after 10 minutes he would walk back and have an easy rest day. If he felt better after 10 minutes he would carry on running.
It is one of the best training tips I have ever learnt and I must have conducted the Henderson 10-minute test hundreds of times in my running career.
Give it a try. It’s a much better approach to training and resting than simply scheduling “ Monday- rest”.