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Why We NEED Rest Days

Every now and then our body tells us we need to slow down and take an additional rest day and that is perfectly ok!  There are several physiological as well as psychological reasons why we should schedule regular rest days.  Here are few great reasons why it’s so important, and why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you have to take an extra day here and there if you’re body is begging for it.

1. Let Your Muscles (Re)grow
When we engage in strenuous physical activity our muscles break down.  It’s during that time that our muscles repair themselves, becoming stronger and more efficient.  Your muscles need that time to rebuild, without it they will continue to tear.  This continuous break down of your muscles leads to several issues (as stated below) but most importantly it will negatively effect the improvements to your strength  you are working so hard for.  This is also why it is important not to train the same muscle groups on consecutive days (when it comes to weight lifting).  So when it comes to cross training, be sure to alternate your strength training days and do not neglect the importance of a rest day!

2. Prevents Fatigue
We exercise so that can look good, be stronger but more importantly to feel good.  Exercise, along with proper nutrition and sleep, help boost our energy levels and our mood.  But there is such thing as too much of a good thing.  When we over-train and neglect rest, our bodies become fatigued.  This causes us to lose energy, have trouble sleeping and it even effects our mood.  It becomes a vicious cycle because when we are fatigued, we will not have the energy to workout.  Without the energy to workout, we will not meet our goals and of course our mood will be negatively effected by that as well.  Listen to your body, take rest days and your body will thank you for it with the energy it needs to keep going in the gym, out on the trail and in life!

3. Prevent Mental Exhaustion
Your mind can get just as burnt out as your body.  Life is all about balance.  We have to be able to physically and mentally enjoy what we do otherwise it will soon feel more like a daunting task than enjoyable activity.  Taking proper rest not only helps you physically, but emotionally as well.  It helps prevent boredom, rekindle your hunger for exercise (you know you miss it when it’s gone ;-)), and of course recharge your psyche.  Not to mention when you are physically tired, your brain cannot function at full capacity, so rest days are win-win for body and mind.

4. Keep Your Immune System Strong
Over-training has been known to weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to fatigue and illness.  When you engage in consistent strenuous activity, your body’s immune system is there to help make the necessary repairs to your muscles and joints.  Without proper rest, your immune system can not keep up with the demands you are putting on your body.  Without an efficient immune system, you are more likely to become ill and then you will have no choice but to take additional rest days to re-cooperate.  Do not wait until you’re already sick to take rest days, be sure to take them weekly in order to prevent a hit to your immune system.

5. Injury Prevention
From running to weight lifting, and everything in between, rest days help prevent the overuse of muscles and joints.  Without allowing the proper rest, this overuse will eventually make you more susceptible to injury.  There is only so much our muscles and joints can take at any given time before they begin to wear down.  It is important you not only allow yourself regularly scheduled rest days, but also that you are listening to your body when it is telling you that you have had enough. Pushing ourselves through extreme fatigue and pain will only set us back in the long run because we will become injured and, of course, have no choice but to rest then, whether we like it or not.

The key to rest days is to schedule them in your regular workout routine.  Chose a day of the week where it will fit best and commit to it.  If an opportunity arises for a race, workout or strenuous physical activity, plan in advance and reschedule your rest day, but don’t skip it that week.  Also, it is tremendously important that you listen to your body.  Some times it will be begging you to slow down and take an extra day or two of rest.  Trust me here, a few days off will certainly not set you back in your goals.  In fact, the much needed rest will have you coming back stronger than before and ready to go out and crush it!

8 Tapering Essentials

Greetings, Coach Christina here and I’m in the final countdown for marathon number 5 which means full out taper madness!  I am by no means a pro at this, even with 4 full marathons, several half marathons, countless mid-distance races and even a few triathlons under my belt, but I have certainly become much more comfortable and confident in the days leading up the the big event.  Don’t get me wrong, the nerves still can get the best of me, but fortunately not quite as bad as they did in the past.  This of course, is thanks to experience as well as becoming more proficient at tapering.  Having learned from my mistakes as well as kept what I found to have been successful, I am continually getting more and more relaxed and ready for the race rather than freaked out like I often did in the past.  Although I do believe the tapering process will differ not just for every person but also for every race, there are definitely some key essentials that can be helpful for anyone in taper mode.  So here are some things that continue to be helpful for me and hopefully for you and your next race as well.

1. Taper Cross Training Too
Regardless of your training program, one thing is certain, you will need to decrease your mileage and intensity in the last few weeks leading up to your big event.  You do this to ensure you have fresh legs and are not over trained come race day.  If you’re like me and a big fan of hitting the weights, swimming, spinning, etc., you will want to apply these same principles to your cross training.  Those last couple of weeks before your half or full marathon is not the time to max out or try a new intense workout routine.  Your muscles need time to regenerate post workout and this can take several days.  While your muscles are working hard to rebuild, you may experience soreness, feel tired and have decreased range of motion, all of which can effect your running from form to stamina.  Now, I am a huge fan of going hard in the weight room and continue to do so all throughout marathon training.  But as my event approaches, I start to scale back, especially with lower body exercises to ward off soreness as well as decrease the risk of injury.  You certainly don’t want to be insanely sore, or worse, hurt come race day!

2. Loosen Up
Being sore and tight on the day of your race can not only lead to sub par performance but can also hinder your recovery.  Tight muscles often lead to weak muscles, so it is important that you are proactive about keeping your muscles loose and your joints limber.  Foam rolling, dynamic stretching and yoga are staples in my marathon training, especially as race day approaches.  Do not wait until you are stiff and sore to work out tight muscles, but sure to engage in some form of fascial release on a regular basis all throughout training and even more so as the race approaches.  Investing in a foam roller is a great place to start, you can even do it in the comfort of your own home.  It will also be your best friend post race when those muscles are pretty unhappy with you.

3. Eat All the Food (But Nothing New)
We have all heard about carb-loading and increasing your caloric intake leading up to the race.  This can, however, be a little misleading.  I’ve made the mistake in the past as seeing this as an opportunity to eat everything in sight to prepare for race day.  Pizza, chips, beer, anything I figured could pre-fuel my body for the big event, I devoured.  Yes, your body will need some additional carbs, salt and calories to run for that amount of time, but it will need it in a healthy way.  Unhealthy, processed foods will give you extra calories and carbs, no doubt, but these foods lack the essential nutrients to support your race day needs.  They can reek havoc on your digestive system, cause gastric issues and effect your energy levels.  Be sure to stick with real, whole foods such as lean proteins, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.  Increase your carb in take with good carbs such sweet potatoes, quinoa, oatmeal and bananas.  Add a little extra salt (I prefer pink Himalayan salt) to your food the day or so before your race to help with electrolytes.  And be sure to drink extra water, you will want to be well hydrated heading into the event.  Also, the last few days leading to the race is not the time to introduce new foods into your diet.  You do not want to risk any sort of reaction from new cuisine that can effect your body on race day!

4. Boost Your Immune System
It happens, I can attest to that.  You put in months of training, you are ready to go out and crush your race and then BAM, you wake up under the weather!  Sometimes it is just inevitable, we get a cold, or the flu or a stomach bug, etc.  We have been putting our bodies through so much stress over the past few months that we end up being more susceptible to catching whatever may be “going around” as the saying goes.   But just like stretching, you do not want to wait until it is a problem to do something about it.  Be proactive when it comes to your immune system.  Here are a couple of ways I like to help build up my immune system.

  • Eating a clean healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds
  • Catching some rays to get my Vitamin D (running outside is typically how I get them)
  • Taking a regular probiotic
  • Supplementing with immune boosters such as Elderberry and Echinacea
  • Washing my hands and counter tops regularly

5. Bubble Wrap Yourself
As tempting as this may sound, it is obviously just not possible, hehe.  But as a precautionary, it may not be a bad idea to refrain from any new activities as well as ones that you may be used to but could post a potential threat to your body.  I know this may sound a little silly and actually pretty obvious, but it is a good reminder to not get too creative with your workouts and extracurricular activities right before your marathon.  You will have plenty of time for adventures post race, so schedule your activities wisely beforehand.  I guess your sky diving and swimming with the sharks will just have to wait a bit.

6. Visualize Your Success
Whether this your first long distance event that you’re just hoping to finish within a certain time frame, or you have a done this before and have a major PR in mind, it is important to not only have a goal, but to visualize yourself accomplishing it.  The saying goes “The body achieves what the mind believes.”  Your nerves will be all over the place leading up to the race.  You don’t want them to get the best of you so it is important to keep your eye on the prize.  Having a strong mental game will not only keep those nerves at bay but will also be what you need to turn your dream into a reality.  Close your eyes and visualize yourself crossing that finish line.  What does it sound like?  Who will be there?  What does it feel like?  Imagine all of those things leading up the race and focus on how great it will feel.  Hold onto those feelings all throughout the race as well, especially when it becomes daunting, and trust me it will at times.  But having that vision of what your own personal “victory” feels like will be what you need to get you through.

7. Get Some ZZZ’s
Easier said that done, but very important.  Sleep not only helps rest your body but your mind as well.  When we lack sleep, and we are just not ourselves physically or mentally, it can effect everything from our mood to our immune system.  All of which are important for being effective on race day.  Finding time in our busy lives for some extra hours of sleep can be very tricky (especially if you’re like me and have small children who stay wake periodically throughout the night).  But what you can consider doing is going to be 15-30 minutes early each night the week or so leading up to the race, and try sleeping in a day or two as well.  The extra minutes of sleep will add up to a few hours and will hopefully help you feel rested come race day.

8. Trust Your Training
You’ve spent the past several months of your life preparing for this one day.  The early wake up calls, countless miles and hours of cross training.  You’ve studied programs, read articles and talked to seasoned runners to gain knowledge, insight and motivation to do this.  At this point, you have done all you can to prepare.  You’ve done your miles, you put in the work, you are ready, whether you think you are not, you can and will do this.  You just have to believe that and trust in yourself and your training.  Committing to and training for a distance race is an accomplishment in itself.  It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice as well as stepping out of your comfort zone.  You have done what you once thought to be impossible by simply signing up for the race and then tackling all the training that is involved to prepare for it.  Knowing that you have already accomplished such an amazing feat before you even toe the line should give you the confidence to see you to the finish.  When you start to doubt yourself before hand or even out on the course, think back to all the miles you have already done, all the long runs you have completed and how you have survived it all.  You have done this before cumulatively in your training leading up to this event, and you can do it now on race day.  Don’t for a second doubt yourself and your abilities, you have come this far and it’s time to go out and finish strong!

Good luck and happy running!

Coach Christina is a certified strength and conditioning coach, marathoner, mother of 2 young sons and along with her husband, own and operates CWSC Performance.  When she is not coaching, running or spending time with her family, she is blogging about it all!

First Thoughts Post Marathon

In a follow up to my previous blog Final Thoughts Before Your First Marathon, I thought I’d blog about some of the first things to consider once you have finished the race.  First and foremost, congratulations on be come part of the less than 1% of the world’s population.  You are officially a MARATHONER!!!  Months of training and sacrifice lead up to a handful of hours of running, a shiny new medal and a lot of thoughts, emotions and possibly some blisters and soreness.  Don’t fret, everything you are feeling is totally normal.  Here are a few things to consider within these next couple of days post marathon.

Marathon Blues

You run those last .2 miles and cross that finish line.  You’re handing your medal, embrace your friends and family and now feel on top of the world.  That high can last for several hours to days.  But one thing is certain in life, what goes up, must come down.  You just spent the last several months of your life preparing for one event.  A huge, life changing event at that.  But now you’re left feeling somewhat empty and even saddened.  What’s next?  It happens to the best of us and the best thing to do is just enjoy the time off to just enjoy running for the pure joy of running.  Not having to worry about long runs, speed work, cross training, etc., and just getting to go jog is such a liberating and fun feeling.  It will allow you to reconnect with the joy of running after months of it feeling like a job.  Also, take this time to start consider what your next big event will be.  Having a future goal in mind will help keep you going with all that progress you made during training for this one.

Eat All The Food

I don’t know about you, but after a marathon, I want to eat EVERYTHING!  You just burned lord know how many calories out on the road.  You will certainly need more food post race than any regular day.  Your body and soul need to indulge, so let go and live a little, after all you earned it!  But also keep in mind how important it is not just to eat because you’re hungry and deserving of lots of food, but also recognize you eat to refuel.  Be sure to focus on eating healthy fats, proteins and of course carbohydrates.  Once you have replenished those calories burned, you don’t necessarily need much more than that, so indulge, but do so wisely.

Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve

One of the most common things I struggle with post marathon, and I hear from so many other runners are the “if I had only done this or that, then I would have done better.”  Yes, each race is definitely a learning experience and can help better prepare you for the next race.  But what’s done is done and you should leave it all out on the course.  You gave it your all and you finished!  This is the first time you have done something this physically, and possibly emotionally, demanding.  Takes some to to appreciate that, and not take away from what you did with any regrets you may have about it.  You only cross the finish line of your first marathon once, and it is an experience like no other!  There will be other races, you will have other chances to do better.  So cherish every moment of the HUGE accomplishment you just made!

Rest Up, Then Get Moving

The first time you try and run after your first marathon can be a VERY humbling experience.  Your legs may feel like lead, your feet can be blistered and your whole body will be sore.  Your wobbly legs, achy hips and tired feet may have you feeling like you may never run again, but trust me, you will!  My advice, take it slow, have no expectations and just listen to your body.  The first couple of attempts at running post marathon  may involve more walking than running, and that is perfectly OK.  As mentioned in my previous post, be sure to take time for some mobility and stretching exercises too.  Loosen up those muscles and then get moving again.  Your body and mind will thank you for it!

What Next?

You may be thinking “I am never doing that again!”  Or you could be looking at the race calendar planning out your next full marathon.  Wherever you are with your thoughts on marathons, here are a few Do’s and Don’t’s for moving forward…

Don’t judge all marathons off of the first experience.  The weather could have been terrible, the training may have been wrong for you or the nerves could have just gotten the best of you.  So if it wasn’t the absolute best experience of your life, think about giving it another shot with with some adjustments to have a better experience the next time.  Never say never!

Don’t jump right back into training for another distance event.  Give your body and mind some time to relax and enjoy what you just accomplished.  If you’ve caught the marathon bug, that is awesome, but give yourself a couple of months before you start training for your next one.  Going at it too quickly without proper recovery may put you in a position for over training, which could lead to injury or illness.

Do set some goals if you plan to do another one.  Now you have a good idea what a race of 26.2 miles feels like.  You know what pace you had, what your finish time was and how all that felt.  It’s not out of the question to do better at your next one, so think about what a PR would look like for you and work towards making that happen.

Do show proud and shout from the roof tops what you just did!  A marathon is a HUUUUUGE accomplishment and certainly something to be proud of.  Don’t think for a second you are “annoying” your friends and family with all your post race chatter.  They should be so incredibly proud of you as you should be insanely proud of yourself.  Bring your medal to work.  Post your race photos on social media.  Share your stories of the race with your loved ones.  It’s an incredibly feeling and you shouldn’t have to hide.  Take pride, you’re a MARATHONER!

I just want to once again congratulate you all on accomplishing such a huge goal.  Not just running the actual race, but for all the months of hard work and dedication that lead up to it.  It takes so much physically and mentally to take on the beast otherwise known as the marathon and you did it!