Two rest days in one week!? What am I supposed to do with myself!?
Not being accustomed to de-training, otherwise known as mixing in a recovery week between periods of heavier training load, I find myself getting antsy. It's easy to let my mind wander too far, especially with the availability of all this training data my fitness watches and apps give me these days. It's easy to let fear creep in, too: what if I lose my fitness?
That is absurd, of course. I can't lose all my fitness in a week, and I especially can't lose all my fitness during a week in which I spend most days working out! It is physiologically easier to maintain fitness than to build it; that's one reason why recovery weeks are important for good training. If I spent three weeks ramping up my training load, I'd need some maintenance time -- that is, time spent maintaining my current level of fitness, without pushing too hard -- in order to decrease my overall levels of fatigue and prepare my body for the next three weeks of heavy training.
This morning was a case in point. I woke up at the usual time: early, so that I could get a workout in. Today, however, is a rest day, so I closed my eyes for another fifteen minutes of rest before having to take a shower and get dressed. I closed my eyes momentarily, and when I opened them again, I discovered that I had slept for an extra hour! This was technically no cause for alarm; I still had plenty of time to get ready for work. What's remarkable is that, five days into my recovery week, my body was still so exhausted from the previous three weeks of training that I unintentionally nodded off for a whole hour.
The same thing happened to me a couple of days back, too. On the agenda for the day was a 60-minute Z3 (tempo) run, which I happily completed in the warm March sun with a smiling face, a lifted spirit, and spring in my step. When I got back to my desk at work, I nearly nodded off. That evening, when I got home from work, I took long nap, an hour or more of sleep that I normally wouldn't need.
I've never been one for napping, not one to try to get more than my share of sleep. I like to get up and be active. The fact that my body was basically taking me by the proverbial shoulders, shaking me, and crying, "Nap, you dolt!" indicates just how much fatigue it's currently dealing with. This kind of fatigue is precisely what recovery weeks are aimed to alleviate. By next Tuesday, when I kick off a planned ten consecutive days of running with a two-a-day, I should have recovered enough to go back to killing my workouts with style. Or so I intend.
However, fatigue is not the most interesting feeling I have as I work through this training schedule. Anticipation is. I find myself looking ahead, not just at the workouts coming up this weekend, but at the workouts coming up over the next two weeks.
Saturday, it will be rather enticing 20-minute Z4 aerobic threshold run. Sunday's a bit of a downer; it's a long run day, but I only get to run for a measly 60 minutes. Monday is a prescribed cross-training day; the prescription is for 30 minutes of cross-training, but how much fun is a 30-minute bike ride? Not as much fun as a 60-minute bike ride, that's for sure! Then, the next two weeks will be dominated by exciting "Mixed Runs," consisting of intervallic alternations between not just aerobic threshold pace and recovery pace, but also tempo pace and random pace variations. There are so many different kinds of workouts coming up over the next month that I have to look forward to. I'm positively bubbly over it.
This anticipation, this effervescence, demonstrates something that has been missing from my training for quite some time: real variety. I haven't had this much training variety to look forward to in years. Even my P90X training, which emphasizes "muscle confusion," and thus variety, hasn't offered me the same kind of variety that this half-marathon training schedule has. (To be fair, it is economically infeasible to produce a video-based workout series with this amount of variety. You can't produce 112 workout videos and expect to make money on a venture like that! Besides, most people cannot commit to the full 90 days of a P90X program, much less to sixteen week of serious training for distance-runners.)
But print-based training schedules, or perhaps we should say long form training schedules, have that advantage over home video series and "couch-to-5K" beginner programs. Freed from the confines of a flashy package and every-man marketing principles, unconstrained by the need to sell non-athletes on a quick fix, long form training schedules can get an athlete down to business, offering difficult workouts, comprehensive recovery weeks, and a wider variety of workouts than people normally get from online home workout programs. That's their advantage.
It's not so very different from watching a movie or reading a book. Most people appreciate the flashiness and shorter timeframe of a good movie, but those of us who can commit to a thousand pages of Moby Dick gain access to the advantages of long form storytelling. Physical fitness works much the same way.
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