For Natalie, rest days aren’t just an excuse to laze around the house. In the latest of her running blogs, she has some advice for those struggling to keep up the pace.

So you got stuck into your New Year’s resolution to start running (if you just read that sentence and slowly put down the Yorkie bar, there’s still time to get your trainers on, you naughty thing) and maybe at first you found it empowering to get out there and train every single day.

Swansea beach

But now you’re tired. Everything feels heavy. Running has become a chore and your legs feel less Iron Man and more Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. You might as well admit it: you’re exhausted and bored. No longer do you get home from campus barely able to wait for the chance to hit the track and shake off the stress of the day (by stress this can range from anywhere between a final exam in the world’s most difficult module to being 10p short of a pint and a bag of nuts at JC’s). Instead you find yourself pretending not to see the trainers by the door, collapsing onto your bed to order Domino’s and watching The Only Way is Essex.

This is an all-too-familiar situation for new runners, and is recognised by more advanced runners as a classic sign of overtraining.  When you no longer get enjoyment physically nor mentally from your runs, your body is trying to tell you something. Something along the lines of: “STOP, FOR GOD’S SAKE JUST STOP. I’M KNACKERED.” (If you are a Swansea girl, like me, feel free to add “BUTT” at the end of that sentence). Running hard every day and increasing your mileage by more than 1 mile per week can put unnecessary strain on your body before it is fully rested and recovered. The result is that you quickly become tired, achey and unmotivated and training inevitably comes to a standstill. You become disheartened. Running, your new best friend, has now become your enemy.

According to Runner’s World, classic signs of overtraining include:

  • Lethargy and sleep disturbances- your body takes a while to unwind after a long training session. So if you’re a late runner, clocking up the miles into the evening, expect to feel restless when you hit the pillow.
  • Weight loss- this often goes hand-in-hand with the lack of appetite that occurs with lethargy. Running is hugely demanding calorifically and just one hour of running can burn easily over 500 calories. I’m not saying this is a ticket to start eating kebabs and McVitie’s chocolate digestives for lunch, but up your intake of healthy wholegrains, porridge, nuts, bananas, honey and dried fruit for an added calorie boost and you’ll find you perform a lot better and recover faster. And no one likes it when their shorts get so big they fall to your ankles in the middle of a run. Apart from local perverts and builders in vans.
  • More frequent colds and viruses- running makes your immune system more vulnerable if you’re training too hard and not allowing yourself time to recover. Expect runny noses, red eyes and the sort of headaches one must feel when under a Cruciatus curse in Harry Potter. And unfortunately the more you push to train through illness, the longer the virus will linger and the more damage you’ll do yourself in the long run (no pun intended).
  • Increased difficulty completing sessions- if even your shorter runs are getting harder, your body is definitely being pushed too hard, too often.
  • Long recovery time for injuries- without rest, there is no recovery. You need to let the muscles take time to repair themselves effectively or you’ll do some nasty damage (a mistake I unfortunately made for myself: doing a speed-and-hill session every single day in my 8-mile runs saw me pulling my ligament trying to bolt up the hill from Uplands to Ty Coch. I also broke my toe the same day but hardly noticed the pain of that: ligament injuries are seriously that painful in comparison and for ten months I was unable to run. It wasn’t worth it. And crutches are very impractical on a bendy bus).

So how important are rest days? Simple. Rest days are just as important as the actual runs themselves. Every individual is different, but the important thing is always to listen to your body. If any of the above signs of overtraining seem familiar, it’s time to take a day or two off training. Experts recommend that you have at least 2 days of rest a week, but for some this may be more. Notice how you’re feeling. A bit of aching and tiredness is perfectly normal if you’ve been upping your mileage, but if it seems to impair your enjoyment or affect your performance, it’s a clear sign that you need to slow down and relax.

Rest days do not always mean you have to sit still all day: sometimes a bit of cross-training can help just to strengthen up some of the muscles that don’t get used so much in running. I find this not only helps my fitness but has certainly helped me to avoid injury—a couple of gym sessions a week in addition to running has not only strengthened my legs and arms and helped me to avoid putting too much pressure on my knees, but my frequent use of the stepper machine has also given me thighs like He-Man. Not always desirable in a small girl but they do look decently toned when wearing a pair of heels.

I have a 10-mile race coming up and I know that the day before will be an important one for upping my wholegrains to get those carbohydrate supplies up for fuel and that for two days after, I will be needing to rest. Two days for me is sufficient; with the half-marathon I needed over a week of rest and then cross-training. It’s surprising how much a race can take it out of you compared to normal training.

But I know if I follow this plan my training will not be affected and I will be refreshed and ready with a new burst of enthusiasm to hit Swansea Bay in my running shoes again within a couple of days. So don’t feel guilty about snuggling up to watch The Notebook and giving your daily run a miss this evening. Your body will probably thank you for it when you’re able to get back out there refreshed and full of energy and renewed passion for running.

By Natalie Holborow