Joe Vigil once told me essentially that if you’re not training, you’re detraining. He was making the point that every day off is a step back and preaching consistency. While I tend to agree that consistency is the most important thing, and I too have the innate obsessive compulsiveness of never taking an off day, sometimes I wonder if that’s such a good thing.
In reading a recent interview in Running Times with Olympic marathon champ Sammy Wanjiru I couldn’t help but notice a comment by him in the section detailing his typical training week:
“Sunday- No running ‘Rest- you get rest’ Wanjiru insists, noting that he believes the Japanese train too hard, too religiously. ‘You need sometimes to relax.’ “
Of course, if you’ve read anything about the Kenyan training methods, you know that the Sunday off day is pretty typical. If you look at the typical European/American training schedule, the off day, if there is one, is much rarer. One of those rare cases is marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who takes a day off every 8th day. So now you have arguably the two best marathoners in the world taking a day off every 7-8 days.
Is it possible that the day off allows them to absorb their previous 6-7 days of intense training better? Everyone’s familiar with the theory of adaptation and supercompensation. We all know we need recovery for any adaptation to occur. Most of us get in the way of easy recovery runs. Is it possible that Sammy and Paula have some sort of supercompensation effect in that the previous weeks intense training wears them down, then they get a big recovery and supercompensation effect with the off day? It’s possible, but who really knows.
Am I suggesting you take a day off every week? No. I myself don’t do that and I’m not sure if I could bring myself to it. I’m just pointing out some trends that seem interesting and getting you to think differently about accepted norms.
The more telling sign is Wanjiru’s comments. He states “You need sometimes to relax,” and that the Japanese train too religiously. I love that the word religiously was used, because that’s usually the reason for running every day. It becomes a sort of religion, something that you have to do every day. That’s the case with most western runners, myself included at times. Instead, Wanjiru appears to come at his running/training as simply done to reach a goal, running fast.
The other part of that quote deals with relaxation. Western runners don’t have the confidence to totally rest, recover, and relax. African’s have mastered it. It shows up not only in their ability to train by feel much better than we can, but also in their racing. When a race goes bad for us Americans, it’s as if the World has ended and we start doubting our fitness, training, you name it. When a race goes bad for an African runner, they typically shrug it off and quickly move on, without any knock in confidence.
Renato Canova, the Italian coach to many Africans, has similarly noted this when he said:
“So, when a Kenyan is tired, his training is to sleep (may be also one day). When a European, or an American, is tired, the first thing is to go running, because training is not considered something in order to improve, but something like a drug, irremissible also in very bad general conditions.”
50 years ago, Fred Wilt was coaching Buddy Edelen who was the World Record Holder in the marathon and came to a similar conclusion. Wilt was coaching Edelen by mail, in that Edelen would get the schedule, do it, write comments and send it back to Wilt. Wilt would then write comments on what he had done and send him a new schedule. On one particular schedule, Edelen had done a 40min run the day before a race in which Wilt wanted him to rest. Wilt wrote the following:
"This is a manifestation of uncertainty. There is a time to train and a time to rest- not halfway rest. This is a bitter lesson you have not accepted."
There is a time to rest-not halfway rest. Western athletes tend to halfway rest. African’s seem to fully rest. Western runners tend to give in to “uncertainty”, while African runners seem to at uncertainty meaning anyone can win. I have a feeling that Sammy Wanjiru would agree with Fred Wilt's quote. Over 50 years ago, Wilt was smart enough to figure out that lesson, it seems not much has changed…
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