Rest equals recovery. That’s what we’re talking about today on the Doc On The Run podcast.
Today we’re talking about one of my favorite false beliefs. It’s that rest equals recovery and this sort of makes sense to most people, but then runners get confused and wind up calling me for second opinions because they’re still a little confused when they hear this.
Let’s say you’re training for a marathon. You’ve been training for months. You’ve built up tons of aerobic fitness, you feel strong, you feel like you’re doing great and then your foot starts to ache. You maybe do a couple of runs. You go to see a doctor. They tell you, you have something like a stress fracture, and they say, “You’ve got to rest. Your body has to heal this injury. So you need to take some time off. You need to let it recover and you need to let it heal.”
That makes sense, sort of, because you know that when you go do hard workouts, when you do mile repeats, when you do a long run, when you do hill repeats, something like that, you know that you have to recover afterwards because you get stronger when you recover after those workouts. But what the doctor’s telling you is that you’re going to take weeks off and you cannot take weeks off and you certainly can’t take months off if you want to continue to run at the same level you’ve been running at.
Now, this can turn into a catastrophic injury for some runners, particularly if you’re in your forties or fifties. If you take months off because you’re waiting and you’re half doing things, and you’re sort of using a boot and you’re sort of using crutches and you’re kind of working out a little bit, but your foot is still kind of aching, just not as bad as it was initially, you’re probably going to take unnecessarily long to actually heal that injury. And as a consequence, you’re not going to run at all during that time.
In that case, rest does not equal recovery. Rest equals obliteration of all of the running fitness that you have worked so hard to maintain all of this time. So that’s what you’ve really got to question your doctor about. You have to say, “Okay, how long do I need to rest? What am I going to do to maintain my running fitness so I can continue to train and hopefully qualify for Boston? What do I need to do so that I can continue to compete and finish the Ironman race that I signed up for?”
These are reasonable questions. I’ll tell you that most of the doctors, when you ask them a question like that, they’ll look at you like you have two heads. They’ll think you’re crazy. But it is their job to help you figure that out.
Remember, rest is not equal recovery. Rest for a brief period of time after a workout equals recovery. But when you’re recovering from an overtraining injury, you have to do everything in your power to maintain your running fitness and make sure that you stay strong, stay active and don’t lose all that running fitness so that when you’re actually healed from this overtraining injury, you can get back to running and training the way you really want. That’s what you’ve got to do.