For those of you who like to set goals, train hard to meet them, and repeat... It's easy to get swept up in training for this and that these days. There are so many great races locally and afar that you can race all year long and never get bored.
There is a downside, however; your performance will start to suck.
Well, maybe not right away, but keep it up for more than 2 years and I bet you're not getting any faster.
I have a buddy who fits this description perfectly and, despite 8 years of consistent training, he's no faster than he was in year 2. To his credit he's rarely injured and competes in everything from 5Ks to marathons to Ironman. You wanna race buddy? He's your man.
So how can someone who trains so much and races all the time not improve?
Simple. He never rests.
One thing I learned early on was that if you want to reach a high peak with your fitness, you need to dip into a low valley, too.
Talk to anyone who's just reached a fitness peak that took 6 months to build and you'll quickly learn they don't want to give it up. The mentality is, “I worked my ass off and I don't wanna lose it!”.
Well, guess what? You won't. Many of the adaptations you created will stick with you for a long time as long as you aren't on bed rest. Been training for 6 months or more? You'll be ok.
I see this irrational fear as a lack of confidence. And I get it, if you were sedentary at some point in your life it may feel scary taking time off. You may wonder if you'll be able to start up again. If that's you, just schedule walks and gentle yoga. If you're a chronic exerciser like me, though, you just have to have some faith.
Stress and recovery not only works minute-to-minute like during an interval session, but also day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and even year-to-year.
Let me explain it this way.
Each week you may have 2 or 3 hard sessions while taking 3-4 days to recover from those sessions. You may be active during those recovery sessions or you may just rest depending on who you are.
(And we know that it makes no sense to train hard everyday for weeks on end. You'd end up injured, overtrained and lose motivation.)
Well let's zoom out a bit and look at a whole year of training. Would it make sense to train equally hard every week? Every month? Of course not. You'd take some recovery days and recovery weeks and appreciate every minute of them.
By dedicating 2 weeks of rest or active rest after an extended period of relatively hard training, you'll allow your body to repair and restore. Little nagging aches will heal. You'll feel incredibly refreshed and ready to tackle your next goal.
If Bernard Lagat, one of America's best distance runners, can take a month(!) off and still be one of the top 3-4 runners in the world year after year (he's 37), then I think you can handle a couple of weeks.
I realize that unfortunately sometimes we are forced to take an unplanned break due to illness, injury, travel, or work. While I hope that doesn't happen to you, perhaps your best bet is to take it in stride and think about all of that healing that is taking place rather than the fitness that you *think* you're losing. I know, easier said than done!
So tell me, have you taken a planned break from training before? How'd it go?