Q: I have been training for a marathon with a mileage chart from off the Internet, but I noticed that it doesn’t allow for much rest and recovery. Is recovery important for this type of training?
A: First of all, let me applaud you for even asking this question. Most of us spend hours, if not days, planning the best approach for training. We try to manipulate intensity, volume, speed, etc., to best match our goals and timeframe. What many of us fail to take into account is optimal recovery. In order to do this, we may need to take a step back.
Starting with a pre-training routine of looking ahead at training intensities, you will need to alternate tough days with easier ones. Most of the online mileage charts I have seen have this built in. You could even add some active rest days, such as a pool workout, that would allow for some limited cardiovascular benefits while supporting muscular flexibility and removal of metabolites.
If you do not want to break too much from your running schedule, try adding an active cool-down to help with this process instead. Also, hydrotherapies may be of benefit at this time, especially with the removal of metabolites. One thing I would suggest, if you don’t have access to a whirlpool or sauna, is a contrast shower. This can be done immediately following a workout and should follow an alternating system of 1 minute of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water.
Another thing you will need to look at is your nutritional intake. Not only what you eat, but when. Some simple guidelines to follow are: 1) low-glycemic foods with water at least two hours prior, 2) medium- to high-glycemic snacks immediately prior and during exercise, again with plenty of water throughout, 3) high-glycemic and protein mix post-workout. In most cases, the total caloric intake should only be slightly higher than the normal person, but the fluid intake should be significantly higher.
The last thing I will address is sleep. Sleep is fundamental to optimal recovery, and the amount and quality of sleep are paramount. The current research suggests that the average athlete needs to get at least 8 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. Those involved in higher-intensity training should strive for the high side of that estimate. Try to find a dark, cool, quiet place to rest in order to maximize you chances of getting a good night’s sleep. The fewer disruptions, the more deep and REM sleep, the better the physiological growth and repair.
In summary, recovery is most definitely important. Each individual’s response to the above suggestions is different and will need to be tweaked to match that person. Furthermore, there are other psychological entities left out of this discussion that also will contribute to increased stressors and overtraining. All in all, keep a log of your training, including a perceived exertion scale. If your performance starts to wane, use the suggestions above and see if that helps with your decisions.