The merits of the down week in running

Knowing when to back off the gas and take a down week in running is a critical to your long term success and longevity as a runner. Keep forging ahead through tired and tight muscles and you are mixing up an unhappy recipe for disaster. A down week could be just the thing to keep you from over-reaching, over-training and over-spending with your physical therapist. So what is a down week anyway? From my perspective a down week involves both a reduction in intensity and volume of running. Generally it should mean removing all demanding training sessions, adding in an additional rest day or two and shortening up the duration of your regular long run. In essence you have a low intensity week of jogging and some extra rest to freshen up and let your body adapt and/or recover from all that hard training you’ve been doing.

You can attack this concept in one of two ways, firstly build in a down week into your training so it’s there as a regular feature to slow you down and help you avoid getting into trouble. This could be done every 4 – 7 weeks and might be a good way to punctuate a training block before you push onwards and upwards into your next more demanding phase. For the avoidance of doubt, taking an easy week of running is not going to do your fitness any harm: all that hard training does not evaporate so easily.

As an aside, a friend emailed me this morning crediting my approach of encouraging a little caution and moderation in running in almost all my blog posts. Her sentiments and the happenings of the last week prompted me to bash out a few more words on the subject. Here’s what she had to say:

Good that you know your insane OCD audience – I think you remind us not to go hammer and tongs over the top in every piece you write! Sadly I agree it is needed every time.

Well all I have to say is it takes one to know one! We runners are a slightly mad breed of human and I have to admit, I, as much as any runner, struggle to find the off button at times. As I wrote a few months back, developing a good relationship with your running is more important than nailing week after week of hard training. Having a regular down week is a great way to show your body you care and not self-sabotage all your great work of the previous weeks and months.

This brings me to the second approach you can use for implementing a down week, which is to call a halt to harder training when you reach a flat spot, are generally sore, have a specific niggle, or are just in need of a rest. This is exactly what I have been doing this week and frankly I’m kicking myself I didn’t follow the former approach. Hitting a rough patch of niggles, dead legs and feeling a bit knackered after some great weeks of training has come as a rude shock, but as running is such a great leveler and I’ve been leveled before, it is not a complete surprise. I think I’ve caught myself in time to avoid any major issues, but I can’t help thinking if I’d been slightly less greedy and backed off the week before last, I’d be in better shape today.

Ryan Hall Takes Regular Down Weeks to Refresh during hard training

I think the approach that American Marathon runner Ryan Hall has recently been using is pretty much spot on. Not only does he take a complete day of rest from running each week, but he also includes regular down weeks of lower mileage and lesser intensity running. I wrote a bit about the merits of Hall’s approach in this article, which includes some good philosophies to train by. While I always have at least one rest day every week, I have been on a good streak on quality running for a while now and I think it’s the harder running that’s caught up with me this week.

Just how rapidly you can transition from flying on supple springy muscles to plodding on tired, clapped out gristly legs never ceases to amaze me and is why it’s so easy to dig a hole for yourself in running. One minute you’re rolling towards glory, the next you’re on the mat ready to throw in the towel.

Happily my previous experience with this sort of minor set-back is to be patient and just jog your way through it. This may involve some ugly slow runs, but squeezing out a few running grovels (as I like to call them) does keep the muscles from completely seizing up. And if you’re a Arthur Lydiard devotee, then you’ll not be adverse to the idea of the healing powers of pumping a bit of oxygenated blood through the creaking, groaning parts of your running anatomy – it does seem to help.

So the regular pre-planned down week has a lot going for it as it takes some of the guess work out of the process of training and recovery. I’ll certainly be throwing a few more into my training regime as the year draws to a close – what about you?

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Picture Credit George Roberts

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