Some runners need an extra push to do the work necessary to race a marathon. In my experience, however, most marathon runners are very driven individuals. What they need is to know when to pull themselves back to avoid overfatigue or injury.
Training for a marathon is hard work. You have to put in countless miles to reach your goals. That said, incorporating recovery time into your program is just as important as the training itself. Many runners think the more work they do, the faster they'll get. This is only true if you balance that hard work with recovery. In fact, we actually make our fitness gains during those recovery days, when our bodies have the chance to restore and repair.
I find many athletes respond well and reduce their chance of injury when they take a "down" week every three to five weeks. This means reducing your mileage by at least 25 per cent and decreasing the intensity levels in interval workouts. After a brief respite, athletes return to full training feeling fresh and have stronger interval workouts.
Don't worry – these small breaks won't have a negative effect on your race preparation. If anything, they may catapult you to higher fitness levels. To reap the benefits of the hard work you are putting in, be sure to include one rest day per week throughout your training program. This rest day should not include any taxing exercise.
If you have extra energy, go for a nice walk or another leisure activity. It's crucial that you read the signs and know when to take an unplanned break. If you are feeling overly tired, notice significant shifts in your mood, or have muscle soreness and stiffness that take longer than usual to recover, you likely are close to being overtrained and under-rested. Often two to three days of complete rest can bring you back to feeling 100 per cent. Remember that rest is a good and necessary component to your training.
Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series.