Philadelphia Marathon Training: Why You Need Rest Weeks, Not Just Rest Days

Run too little and you’ll crash and burn come race day. But run too much and you’ll ALSO crash and burn come race day.

Marathon training is exhausting. There’s really no way around it. Week after week you head out the door on tired, achy legs preparing your body for the 26.2-mile journey. Run too little and you’ll crash and burn come race day, but run too much and you’ll also crash and burn come race day.

Running a great marathon means knowing how to fight off fatigue — being able to manage your energy throughout the race so that when you cross the finish line, you’ve just started to “run on empty.” Marathon training needs to prepare you for this long battle with fatigue and just as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The best way to prepare is to practice running in a fatigued state. This not only includes a weekly long run but also accumulating fatigue over an extended period of time. For intermediate and advanced runners, this accumulated fatigued state is just as important as the weekly long run. Since virtually no marathon plans include running 26.2 miles at goal marathon pace, this accumulated fatigue helps prepare you for tackling 26.2 miles at goal pace without actually doing it in training.

However there is a huge risk that comes with training in an extended state of fatigue: Overtraining. Overtraining, caused by stressing the body too hard, too often, with not enough rest, can completely wreck marathon training. The key to balancing this fine line between an optimal fatigued state and overtraining is letting the body rest so it can adjust to higher workloads.

The key to finding the optimal balance between overtraining and training in a healthy state of accumulated fatigue is just as you would include rest days in each week, you should also include rest weeks every so often. Otherwise known as “down weeks,” this rest week should be built into your training plan every three to six weeks depending on your ability level. Generally speaking, intermediate and advanced runners who train more then five days per week should consider including down weeks in their training plan, however even those who train less can benefit from a few easy days. These brief periods also provide a nice mental break and something to look forward to when training becomes mentally taxing.

A typical down week should focus on reducing the overall volume of your runs versus decreasing the intensity. Aim to drop your weekly mileage by cutting runs a few a miles short or adding an additional rest day. The actual amount will vary depending on how many miles per week you’ve been running. Be sure to keep intensity roughly the same throughout the week, though. For example, if you’ve worked up to a 40-minute tempo or eight-mile steady run, adjust these workouts to a 30-minute tempo and six-mile steady run.

Got it? And there you have it. Your excuse to rest a bit. It’s the responsible thing to do, after all.

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Cory Smith, a Philadelphia based running coach, shares his expert advice as an American Cancer Society DetermiNation running coach; founder of Run Your Personal Best, a private running-coaching business; and head cross country coach at Penn State Brandywine. He is a USA Track and Field-certified coach and a 4:03 miler. As a student athlete at Villanova, Cory was an NCAA Division One Regional and National Championship qualifier. Contact Cory at [email protected]. Read all of Cory’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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