How and why runners should adopt a healthy relationship with time off

Nothing bothers a runner more than putting a big fat 0 in their running log, especially when that day isn’t supposed to be a 0 day in the first place. And even planned 0’s are enough to annoy most of us into doing more the next day than we probably should.

What is a 0? A 0 is nothing more than a day off from the pursuit that we love so much. Most solid training plans include a 0 from time to time, in order to rest the body and mind, allow full recovery and prepare us for the next cycle of training. In other words, a 0 is as important as a 10-mile progression run and maybe more so.

The big old 0 seems to find its way into my training logs at both predetermined places as well as the unexpected ones. Those unexpected ones are the ones that bother me. Seeing a red 0 means I didn’t plan my day or my week or my training cycle properly. It also means something else in life took priority (which is usually of a bad variety such as an illness of a family member or emergency at work). It could mean that I’ve over-reached and my body is telling me to rest. Then there’s the wimp factor; it’s too cold, too early, too warm, too late, too much pizza, too many distractions, or just too many too many’s.

A properly placed black 0 in your training schedule means you are being careful to not overdo it and are helping to keep injuries and illnesses at bay. These 0’s are probably the cornerstone of a solidly planned cycle. Without them, you risk getting sidetracked from your overall plan and goal. And yes, I color code my 0’s so I know what type it was.

I know more than a few endurance folks who could learn a thing or two from the mighty 0. Even when it comes to racing, a 0 sometimes is more valuable than a 5k or 10k in the overall plan. If we’re honest with ourselves, and I know so few runners who are, we’ve probably placed 10’s in that running log where there should have been a 0.

So how do we adopt a healthy relationship with time off? Remember, that’s really what we’re talking about here. Rest time allows for us to continue progressing in a positive direction. The equation my college coach emphasized was (and still is) EFFORT + REST = PROGRESS. Or as I like to tell my athletes, it’s not the workout that will make you better, but rather the rest AFTER the workout.

Here’s a recent mileage sample from my training last year:

8 / 6 / 8 / 10 / 0 / 14 / 6 / 8 / 0 / 10

A few years ago I moved to a 10-day training cycle rather than a 7-day one. Had I been involved in the setting of the calendar (and apparently I was not), a week would have been 10 days in length. It allows for more rest time and flexibility. Oh, and more weekend.

Obviously the specifics of the workouts aren’t included, but you get the general idea. The mileage totals are pretty good but yet I have plenty of rest time as well. If there was a 31st day in the month, I’d get an extra 0 for good behavior. These totals were never static, and fluctuated based on where I was in my cycles. This was part of an early season base period, where the need for mileage is higher and so is the need for recovery.

By learning to not hate a black 0 (notice I didn’t say love it, just not hate it), you may find your training and racing improves dramatically. Too many of us run until we’re forced into that red 0 that is caused by our own behavior and then who knows how many red 0’s we’ll incur in our running logs.

The red 0 that comes from other causes can also be overcome with some flexibility in your training. I didn’t run Saturday because the wind chill was -3, but today was a better day so I can get out and get in that long run. Allow those 0’s to float in your plan and voila – instant flexibility and less guilt.

So don’t be annoyed with a 0. Remember, without a 0, you’re stuck running either 9 miles or 11 miles. Now don’t get me started on odd numbers. They REALLY bother me.

Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer.