After a hard block of mileage, runners look forward to their day off. Some take a rest day weekly, others work in 10-day cycles and some avoid the off day at all costs (I’m looking at you, run streakers). Training is all about breaking your body down and building it back up to be even stronger than it was before. Part of that means taking a day off, but the timing of that downtime is important.
Many runners complain that they’re actually more sore when they don’t run, but there’s a reason that your off day can leave you feeling worse than if you’d gone for a recovery run. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is part of the training process. DOMS usually appears around 24 hours after a hard workout or race and results from intense exercise.
A runner’s knee-jerk reaction is likely to take a day off when they’re particularly sore, but depending on the context, a recovery run could be more beneficial. According to a 2018 study by Frontiers in Physiology, active recovery is one of the best ways to overcome DOMS. Active recovery can be an easy run, cross-training or even a walk. Moving your body is better than sitting still.
Canadian master’s marathon record-holder Lyndsay Tessier says it’s important for her to run easy after a hard session. “After a long run, I feel way better when I eat, shower and then take Ben [her dog] out for a walk. Then, my easy runs the next morning are also important to keep things oiled up and moving. If I’m sedentary after a run, everything just settles and gets tight. ”
Tessier reminds runners that there’s a time and place for a day off, but for her, that time and place isn’t after a hard effort. “There are times when you need a rest day. However, after a rest day my body feels a little tight, and this is even worse after a hard run. I feel like the Tin Man when I take a day or two off and try to get going again. The key is finding the balance.”
How to recover from a hard workout
After a hard workout, the first order of business is to eat a good meal. After that, an evening walk is a great way to shake out the legs. Get a good sleep and plan for active recovery the next day, even if that’s just a short, easy run. While you might not feel like it, your legs will thank you.
How to recover from a marathon
Tessier takes 10 to 14 days completely off after a marathon. She explains that this is for both her body and her mind. “During that down time, I don’t run, I don’t cross-train, I don’t even run if I feel like it. Even if my legs feel like they’re ready to go, I need to give my mind the time to reset.”
She says when she’s ready to get started again, it does feel weird and difficult. “I feel so sluggish. You wonder how the heck you were ever so fit. But this time away is necessary. When you keep at it consistently, your fitness comes back.”