When you start running consistently, a few things happen: You can handle more days of running in a row, your mileage can go up and you can even add things like speed work and strength training to get faster. But with an increase in volume or intensity comes the struggle of knowing whether or not you’ve recovered enough between workouts. Managing proper recovery keeps you in the game and lessens the risk of overuse injuries down the line.
If you tend to push through pain and go until you need a rest month, not just a rest day, here are a few objective and subjective ways to tell if you need an extra rest day (or low-intensity day) during your next training block.
YOUR TRAINING JOURNAL
Keeping some kind of record of training, even just quick notes on mileage or your daily workout, can provide valuable data — and the more you record, the better. Look back over your training log, whether that means an actual physical journal or an app like MapMyRun where you record your runs. When was the last time you took a day off or had a truly easy day? (By the way, days when work and travel were hectic and you were on the go don’t really count as true rest days.) You might realize the only off days you’ve had lately were courtesy of 18-hour work days, and you’re really lacking down time. Take an extra rest day if that’s the case.
BEING CONSTANTLY HUNGRY
Are you wandering into the kitchen every five minutes looking for a snack? After a long run, or even for a few hours after a long run, that’s normal. But if you spend every single day feeling like you can’t focus on anything except your next meal or you’re constantly reaching for more junk food, that could mean you’re not recovered enough and your body is trying to catch up. If you’re hangry all the time, take a day off from running and focus on loading up on clean eats: veggies, quality proteins and healthy fats.
HEART RATE VARIABILITY
Apps like HRV4Training use a pulse detected from your fingertip against the flash on your phone’s camera. Every morning, you use the app for 1–5 minutes to track your heart rate variability (HRV) — the space between beats — and then add in some subjective notes in the app, like how well you slept, how hard you worked out the day before and whether you’re sick or not. It calculates your score and offers recommendations ranging from ‘go ahead and go hard!’ to ‘tone down intensity’ to ‘consider a rest day.’ It’s a great blend of objective and subjective stats and, bonus, it forces some morning mindfulness instead of springing out of bed.
FATIGUE + SORENESS + MOOD
Subjective data — how tired you feel when the alarm goes off, how hard it is to step out of bed and squat down to sit on the toilet, how irritable you get when your partner is making too much noise early in the morning — all of that can boil down to a simple bad mood, or it can be a sign you’re not recovering enough.
One day is understandable: You’re exhausted after your long run the day before or sore from a strength-training session where you upped your deadlift weight, or — to be honest — your spouse is being objectively annoying. But if you notice you’re staying exhausted, sore and cranky for more than one or two days in a row, that might mean it’s time for an extra rest day (and a few extra hours of sleep!).
While not everyone experiences this, some runners find too much training and too little recovery can actually lead to weight gain, which can be frustrating for a marathoner who’s logging big miles on a weekly basis and hoping to shed pounds, not pack them on. But if you’re feeling constantly puffy and inflamed and the scale is telling you you’re holding on to a few extra pounds, you may actually need a couple of easy days or rest days to let your body return to its normal non-water-retentive state. (On the flipside, if you’re dropping weight at a rate of more than a pound a week and aren’t doing so under medical supervision, that might be a sign you’re training too much and not fueling adequately.)
HOW OFTEN YOU’RE GETTING SICK
If you have a head cold every other week, that might be a sign you’re not properly recovering. When our bodies are constantly trying to repair and rebuild muscle that’s been torn apart during a workout, our immune systems can take a hit. If you’re healthy as a horse and can’t remember the last time you had the sniffles, that’s a great sign. But if you’re feeling under the weather and can’t seem to shake that tickle in your throat, taking a day off to stock up on sleep might be what you need to get fully recovered.