When to not run

The internet is full of advice on the best time of day to run, or the best places to run, or even how best to run. One of the hardest decisions a runner needs to make, though, is when not to run.

Deciding on whether you are fit enough, recovered enough, virus-free enough to run can make the difference between giving you a workout and helping you get stronger, or making you weaker. Ironically you’d expect this to be a decision that newer runners would be poorer at making than more experienced runners, but paradoxically it almost seems that the inverse is true. The more experience, the less able to make sensible choices about when to not run. Perhaps the experience gives us a false belief that we know best, that somehow our experience counts for more than basic common sense. Perhaps too there’s a sense of bravado, not wanting to be stopped by seemingly trivial things such as a sore knee, or a runny nose. Ironic, then, that less experienced runners could have something to teach the more experienced ones?

How many times have we seen experienced runners staring down the barrel of a tough race at the end of a tough week, and right at the end of their training are feeling tired, perhaps carrying a niggle, then saying “yep I’ll just nip out for another run”. Why? What possible benefit so close to an event? There are some fundamental building blocks in training, hill work, speed work, distance work and….rest. Its like we loose sight over time of this last component of training and how vital it is for improvement. No rest, no development. However, it still doesn’t help us answer the question of when not to run.

Running when ill, injured, fatigued all would appear to be poor choices but its surprising how many do it. We’ve all been there and the outcome is probably best described as a gamble. Still, its hard to really know when its not a good idea to run. The world cannot simply end because of a runny nose, yeah? Sore muscles are not necessarily injured muscles…therefore it seems that common sense should prevail, and that we ought to best decide when the right time to not run is. Sadly I think sometimes we simply loose track of how much training we’ve done, unable to keep a mental note of how much running we’ve logged and also, importantly, how hard the sessions were because this is a key factor in fatigue. This is why technology and applications like Strava can be useful, in helping us keep track of what training we’ve logged, and looking at it week by week we can easily, almost at a glance see when it might make sense to have an ‘easy week’ or a rest week. Resting is so key to development as a runner, but so overlooked it’s a wonder any of us improve at all.

So I was due to race yesterday at the Wellingborough XC. Not the prettiest XC in the calendar but all the same a good chance to push the muscles, heart and lungs to the max…..or not as it turned out. Feeling vaguely under the weather, with a sore knee, I was scanning my Strava activity looking at when I last didn’t run a weekend or had more than 1 day of no activity. It was a long time. The decision was made, change track. Get out, encourage the team, take photos and rest.

As it turned out I learned that it was very enjoyable to watch a race from the sidelines, cheering your own, and others on. In the end I sort of realized that its not so bad after all. Rest is definitely nothing to be scared of and you can, in a way, still take part.

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