As we head into the autumn many runners, who aren’t tackling autumn races, will now be taking an end of season rest. But what’s the best way to rest and do you even need a complete rest from running?
As a young athlete I always used to take a long break at the end of the busy summer track season. When I started back running, I'd often pick up a niggle or a more problematic injury. Gav (my husband and coach) and I put this down to the loss of conditioning which resulted from taking time off completely. To avoid this, we modified the way I rested.
For the past twenty years or so I haven’t taken any end of season break and instead I’ve taken an active rest where I continue to run. Usually I enjoy following my training plan as I work towards my major goals but during my active rest phase I don’t follow any schedules. It’s really refreshing to be free from the structure of the necessary essential training units. I enjoy being able to mix up my running. I run where and when I like, for as long as I want and it doesn't matter if I’m fast or slow.
Trail running has always been a hugely important aspect of my training and one of the additional things I enjoy during this phase is to run in different beautiful locations. These are often places that I wouldn’t usually choose during more serious periods of training. I relish the opportunity to run on more challenging trails but at a slower, more leisurely pace, really using my running to embrace the beauty of my surroundings. My mileage drops from over a hundred miles to probably half this amount and I gradually start to feel refreshed and renewed ready for the next tough winter. It's not just a physical break from hard training but also a mental one, and it's during this phase of running freely that a renewed motivation for the next season develops. I'm refreshed, not through rest, but through the joy of running. Running but perhaps stopping to enjoy a view or dip my feet in the sea.
To run with pure freedom is how you remind yourself that running is so simple, so much fun and, I think, completely amazing! Taken less seriously for a while it can renew itself, so that you continue to run with a passion that keeps you wanting more. This is what my active rest phase is. It's a time of appreciating my running and it helps to remind me of why I run.
So next time you are ready to take a rest from running think again! Is it the physical rest you need or is it just time out from running schedules? Perhaps give yourself a chance to re-explore your passion for running. Think about why you first started running, that initial buzz, and make sure you reignite it from time to time.
Active rest refreshes you mentally, it gives your body a break without loss of conditioning, it means you return to winter training with greater fitness levels and it gives you a time to really appreciate being a runner. During this phase I also get time to decide on my next running goals which makes me feel motivated and excited about the return to full training.