Last week was my first cutback week since working with Coach Doug after my highest volume week since I started training again. I decided to follow it as close to the letter as possible. Now that I'm back to a build week I am glad I did this, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I once believed it was. Not to mention I was dealing with some mild but irritating DOMS in my quads and calves, so rest was sounding like a good idea when this came up on the training plan. Not that I didn't almost enjoy that heavy and tired feeling-especially since it was just symmetrical training pain indicating progress, they were whispering "rest us... c'mon, just a little bit".
I think I have finally figured out why I used to do this and overlook what is critical for me in training: quite simply, I didn't know what to do with myself when not pressing towards something-at least in the short term. So I did a little reading and a lot of self talk and figured out how to feel productive while recharging for the next phase. As obvious as it sounds, I filled in the time not running with working on strength and stability: two necessary attributes for efficiency and injury prevention. Some runners like to rest more, but for me always being a 'workout person'. I find I feel better mentally and physically if I do some sort of activity most days, and I don't have to be pounding the pavement EVERY day (my withdrawl window I guess has gotten longer over time, LOL), so I add in something that doesn't get as much attention when doing long runs and workouts, and I'm less tired while doing them.
So I went to an extra yoga class, got a massage, lifted lightly a third day, and felt fit the entire time, versus the old mind game of feeling flabby and lazy if I don't put 'x' miles in. I didn't even have time to think about that since there was structured active recovery in there. I think that is where most of us go wrong is not filling in the gaps in a way that suits them when either cutting back or tapering.
So what does one of these weeks entail? Well, it varies.
A down week looks different for every athlete and it is highly subjective depending on mileage, goals, experience, history, etc. Some need one every 3 weeks, some every 2 months. A couple years ago a Running Times article written by Kristin Berry and featuring Pete Rea of Zap Fitness and Jay Johnson of Boulder covered different ways of incorporating these weeks in athletes ranging from 5k runners to marathoners. The purpose is pretty simple, a reduction of 15-20% of peak mileage is a common rule and designed to systematically induce muscle and glycogen re-synthesis and have a general restorative effect.
What does it feel like? A million dollars? For me, not even close. I was just as sore if not a little more the first couple days and I felt borderline stale on the easiest of runs. Instead of worrying about pacing, I put on the HRM for the week to keep it honest. As the week went on, I felt better and my average HR was lower after at first seeing the thing jump around or be a little higher relative to my perceived effort. Clearly, this week was timed appropriately.
Think of training like climbing flights of stairs: say you want to reach the top of this tall building and that is your goal, however, it may not be the best idea to just start going up and up without any reprive. Now imagine if the stairs have landings and shift directions. Now we're making progress and it's less daunting-both for the body and the mind, as there are scheduled points to take a break and refresh so you can make it to the top without burning out. Before you know it, you've made it to the top of the building, and you feel pretty dang good about it too.
Today I am headed to the oval to do a few speed repeats, and am feeling confident in the relative rest I put in. All in the process. Anyone else like doing these weeks? They tend to be an acquired taste :)
Stay the course.