6 Benefits About Rest That Every Long Distance Athlete Should Know

Marathon training

It’s been a fantastic weekend.

On Saturday, I ran the Old Mutual Om Die Dam 50km Ultra-marathon. It was hot and humid but I ran a lovely race, and finished in a time of 4 hours 57 minutes. Below are my splits over the distance of the race:

Om Die Dam

It goes without saying that I spent the rest of that day stuffing myself with liquids, food and doing absolutely nothing.

On Sunday, I did bugger all until about lunch time. Later that evening, I attended the evening church service, where the Senior Pastor preached a sermon titled “Grace – if you know it, you can show it!”. That message brought an incredible end to a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

On Monday morning I went for an easy 10km recovery run. The rest of the day was spent running a few errands.

It’s Tuesday, and for the next two days I have every intention of being a couch potato – as I write my latest blog post on why resting is such an important part of your training.

As I write this post, it’s 06h05 South African local time. I’m watching the 2015 World Cup Cricket semi-final between South Africa and New Zealand. The rain has just interrupted play. The two teams have gone off the field with South Africa looking good at 218-3 after 33 overs.

AB De Villiers is his usual destructive self. He’s on 68 from 38 balls. Faf Du Plessis has worked hard for his 82 runs from 103 balls.

They’ve gone off for an unexpected break.

I, on the other hand, am taking a scheduled break and some much needed rest from my training.

Rest is essential. Yet, so many athletes don’t give themselves enough rest during their training programmes. Some neglect to rest for fear of losing their fitness. Others feel “the more training, the fitter I get”.

I hope by the end of this article I would have helped you understand how rest actually helps you become a much better athlete.

1. Rest helps with recovery

Long distance training is hard on the framework your body (bones, muscles, tissue) and your immune system.

The impact on your body is enhanced particularly because of the length of time you are spending on the road.

When you factor issues such as the change in weather, dehydration and huge volumes of liquids lost, in-take of various types of foods before, during and after your training runs and races, you begin to appreciate how much strain your immune system takes. In fact, as I write this post I’m down with a bout of flu.

You can’t avoid the strain the body and immune system endure. But, you can certainly help your body to absorb it better, adapt to it efficiently and ultimately recover adequately by having rest days in-between your training programme.

Resting also restores the depleted glycogen, the most essential nutrient for any long distance athlete.

2. Reduces chances of getting injured

There are quite a number of factors that cause running injuries. These range from bad quality running shoes and incorrect pair of running shoes to increasing your mileage too quickly. Another huge reason for injuries is over-use or over-training.

Over-use occurs when you take your body through a work-load of training that it can’t handle. When you are a novice, it’s quite difficult to determine what a reasonable work-load for you is. Nonetheless, a lack of rest is a huge contributing factor to over-use.

That’s why I highly suggest you following training programmes that include regular resting periods.

3. Increases Fitness

Crazy, absurd and ironical as this may sound – it isn’t the many hours of training that makes you fitter. It is the rest that makes you stronger and fitter.

Does this mean more rest and fewer training days are a better option when training? Absolutely not! Training twice a week in the name of “resting adequately” is not going to get you much progress.

But, the hard work and break down of muscles that happens when you train gets repaired when you rest. It is during this repair period that your body fully absorbs your training, adapts to more intensity, grows stronger and enables you to get fitter.

This is the same reason why tapering, reducing mileage as you get to a major race, is so important. When tapering, you are effectively taking the body through a repair phase so it can absorb weeks or months of training in preparation for an intense event.

4. Reduces Mental Fatigue

One of the greatest challenges for long distance runners is staying mentally fit.

Depending on your goals, the mental strain could be average or intense. Average if you are training for your first half marathon. Intense if you are training for the Comrades Marathon.

Having run and successfully completed 3 Comrades Marathons, the consistent training over many months can sometimes leave you:

  • unmotivated to go out for you next training run
  • physically fatigued, almost on the verge of over-training
  • feeling like a simple 10km run is a 35km run
  • depressed if other areas of your life are under pressure

The above are just a few. But they are enough to get you down, out and buried mentally.

Getting over these mental hurdles requires rest. Be it time out to relax the muscles after a hills or speed training session or time out to reflect on the progress of your training, rest is a good way to deal with the mental stress.

5. Enables you to lead a balanced life

I am a huge advocate for leading a balanced life. One of the key reasons that inspired this blog is the ability it gives me to both lead and give advice on how to lead a balanced lifestyle. Whilst running and staying fit is great, there are other key areas in your life that you need to pro-actively take care of.

When in rest mode, you can read a book or spend time with family. You can play games on Playstation and go into complete leisure and fun mode. All of this helps reduce mental fatigue because it allows you to focus on other aspects either than running.

Unless you are sleeping, there are a number of activities you can do in “rest mode”.

6. Rest is good reward for hard work

You know that feeling you get when you look at yourself in the mirror at the gym and you see a bit of progress?

Or that felling you get when you hop onto that scale in the gym and it shows an improvement in weight?

Perhaps you are the shower addict – the type that sings and hums melodies. You are the type that relishes that hot shower after a tough and productive gym session.

Rest – be it immediately after a race or a break in between your training programme – can be incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

I take my rest on Wednesdays and Sundays. And trust me, I look forward to those days. They are paramount to my training. They revitalize me in ways I could never articulate because I treat them as my reward for the hard work I put in during training.


You might have read this post and thought: “but resting is such an obvious thing to do when you train”.

As obvious as it may sound, I’m here to tell you that running can get very addictive. Addictive to a point where you feel paranoid when you haven’t gone out for a run.

At times, the paranoia makes you chuck the basics out the window.

To understand this, you need only stand around the finish area of a marathon or ultra-marathon and have a look at how many athletes neglect to stretch after the race.

Yes, you are tired after a long race. Yep, you can hardly feel your legs at times. Some even collapse. Having said all this, a couple of minutes after the race to stretch for at least 5 minutes are vital.

But “no”, most athletes are too happy to just end their run and find the nearest spot to lie down. Others are more eager to find fellow athletes and do a post mortem of the race and neglect to do something as basic, and yet so important, as stretching.

Rest is a basic, and yet very integral part of your training. But most miss the trick. Don’t fall into that trap.

Rest will help you enjoy your running, reap the full benefits of running and help you run for many years to come.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and found it useful.

God Bless!

P.S. Sadly, at the end of writing this post South Africa had lost to New Zealand by 4 wickets. New Zealand the required runs of 298, in the 43rd over with one ball to spare. It was an incredible match indeed.

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