Recovery is essential to improve one's fitness. It is during recovery time that our bodies absorb the strength for which the workouts are designed. Every training plan should plan for both training and racing coupled with deliberate recovery time.
However, due to the vast differences
that exist among people, not every training/ recovery plan will look the
same. Rest and recovery are relative. For some athletes one of
the best ways to recover is to go for another run or walk or to cross train
either on the same day or the following day. For others, recovery will mean a
day or two completely free from training. They depend on the distance one
is training for, the age and experience of the athlete, and what the goals of
the training are.
When training for shorter
distances/times (5K - Half Marathon), athletes often prefer to recover between
each workout so that they feel fresh before the next intense session.
Conversely, for distances beyond two hours some workouts, weeks, and segments
of the training (like long runs & back-to-back long runs) are specifically
designed to not allow the body to fully recover. The goal is to feel
fatigued to prepare the body and mind for the impending fatigue one will
encounter in the actual race. Both appraoches have their merits and both have
just as much to do with psychology as with physiology.
I encourage my athletes to take time
off after each competitive season or BIG goal race. When they ask how long they
should take off I encourage them not to resume training until they miss it so
much that they are ready to be consistent until the end of the next season or
training block. For some, this means a week. For others, a month or more.
Some may ease their way back into running by doing some active recovery through
cross training (biking, swimming, skiing, climbing, aqua-jogging, elliptical,
yoga, hiking, etc.) while others will jump right back into running once they
This time off from intense training is just as
important (if not more) than time on the feet. During this down time I take
time to evaluate the previous season and to set goals for the coming season of
base training and the following season of racing. I encourage my athletes
to do the same. I also like to use this time to read books and articles
to inspire me and keep my mind fresh. I encourage my athletes to do the
same. I find that a week or two a year is usually plenty of time off and
it seems to help me avoid more serious injuries, fatigue, illness, and
staleness throughout the year.