Fatigue can be a nasty word. Like anything else, too much is definitely not a good thing. Excessive fatigue can lead to over training, stress fractures, mental burnout and loads of other injuries. An appropriate dose of accumulated fatigue, however, is the prescription for a good training plan.
Most important among those things is adaption. No workout happens by itself. It’s surrounded by other workouts, life events, nutrition and sleep. It’s the build up of stress on muscles and depleted energy stores that make training work. Our bodies adapt to these tired or less than 100% states and get stronger. In fact, it can take up to 14 days to recover from a hard workout. But you’ll keep running. Easy running is incredibly important to help torn up muscle fibers repair. It keeps our bodies working without adding so much stress we start to break down.
We can also take advantage of accumulated fatigue when preparing for a race. Since you’re probably not going run 26.2 miles during training, use the previous day’s workout to help make 20 miles feel like 26. Running a steady state six to eight miler the day before your long run means you’re starting that run with six miles under your belt. It’s like starting at Mile 6 instead of the start line and both our bodies and brains benefit.
The mental toughness garnered from a pair of fatigue inducing workouts like that is a great tool for race day. We gain confidence with each tough workout we power through. Every run that’s one mile longer or 1% tougher tells our brain ‘hey, we can do this’. Once we’ve broken that ‘I can do it’ barrier enough, it goes away. We become familiar with the tiredness we’ll experience at the end of a long race and learn to push through it.
Now, let’s not forget to relax. We all need a down week every four to six weeks. It gives us a chance to heal significantly before going back to hard training. That’s also the goal of tapering. Get rid of all that accumulated training fatigue. Allow your body to make the final adjustments it can so you are in peak performance shape on race day. Fill up your fuel tank, let your muscles get as strong as they can and give your brain a breather.
Use accumulated fatigue to your advantage and reap the benefits on race day.
Easy running might seem pointless. How can you get faster if you don’t actually run faster? The truth is you can’t. To improve speed, running economy and endurance you do have to run faster than you are comfortable. But you don’t have to do it all the time, nor do you want to. A balance between hard and easy workouts is the best way to build fitness without risking injury or burnout. The purpose of easy running is to build a foundation. Building this foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of road running over time and will ultimately lead to improved race times and a lower risk of injury.
Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity without beating yourself up. You need fast days to work on turnover, mitochondria and VO2max but easy running days are not necessarily ‘junk miles’ because you’re still working towards a goal. As long as each run has a purpose your time and effort is never wasted.
That’s because going as fast as you can all the time is asking for trouble. Your body has to take care of itself after hard workouts. It has to repair damaged muscle, expand blood vessels and learn to process more oxygen. An easy workout helps clear out waste from muscles, improve circulation and might actually help speed muscle recovery. If you push all the time, those processes never get to finish their jobs and you’re inviting over training and burnout. Alternating hard and easy running workouts gives your body a chance to make all of the positive performance enhancing adaptations it can.
The most important thing is to make sure your easy running is just that. Easy. Aim to be at least one minute slower than your goal race pace for the duration of an easy workout. As your fitness level increases it can become hard to slow the pace down. Keep the goal of each workout in mind when you’re out there feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything. Your body has to have time to adapt to training stimuli so you can ultimately increase your performance level.