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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    1. Ken Schafer on April 22, 2010 at 1:24 am

      I like the message of encouraging runners to rest more, but the underlying message of only taking one day a week or less off from running is a little troubling. That may be fine for elite athletes, but for most runners it will not be enough.

    2. adventureracing on April 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

      Excellent post.
      I firmly believe in the day of – but not as "religiously" as every X days. I'm more the "do I really feel like a hard tempo run today"-type athlete.
      I not a big believer in standard procedures. If you feel lousy there not point in aggressively hitting the track. Easy run, sauna, massage, legs up…much better.
      Next day: Train hard again…

    3. Drs. Cynthia and David on April 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

      I recently overheard someone say that he takes a week off midseason to allow for more recovery and rest, this after just winning a trail 50K and setting a new course record. Many of us are just insecure and afraid to rest for fear of losing whatever training improvements we've made. For some of us, those gains were hard enough to achieve that the insecurity seems warranted. Perhaps a good compromise is really easy and short recovery running, though people still may tend to do too much. This way you can keep the desired muscle tension without becoming flat, but still have energy to spare and allow time for healing. People who have real talent probably shouldn't be afraid of resting though, and it might help with their longevity and injury prevention.


    4. niner on April 22, 2010 at 10:26 am

      I'm resting more this season than last season.
      I'm faster now, why? I now let my body catch up with the adaptation.

      Train hard, rest harder.

      If you train hard, and you're not still recovered you're gonna be overtrained in a few weeks.

      Elite athletes in a whole different story, their bodies adapt much quicker and they also have some extra 'help'.

      I personally alternate one hard training day with one easy day or off the bike. If the training/racing day has been too hard, I take 2 days off.

      Most of us have a job, kids etc which is an added stress elite athletes don't have.

    5. Will Musto on April 22, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      I'm only a collegiate athlete, not an "elite" athlete, but as a Student-Athlete I find it a bit of an irritant to read comments such as "well elite athletes this" and "elite athletes that."

      SURE, elite athlete's bodies may be more inclined to hard training, but they're also training substantially harder than those who don't define themselves as "elite." Plus, many of the best (Bryan Clay, for instance–the "World's Greatest Athlete") has…I think…two children.

      I'm obviously a snot-nosed college kid who's "living the dream" right now, but don't act as if elite distance runners don't have stressors in their lives as well. They do!

    6. stevemagness on April 22, 2010 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for all the comments.

      Ken- I’ll have to disagree. For the majority of runners who run on any kind of regular basis, one day off a week is completely fine. I have HS freshman who come in running very little who train at least 5 days a week, most of the time 6 if we can get them running on the weekend.

      Now, other stressors such as jobs or family might prevent runners from running that much, and that’s fine. But physiologically and mechanically, the average runner can handle 6+ days per week of running. They just don’t run that much b/c of other commitments and balancing the trade off.

      Adventureracing- I think that’s the best way to go about it and more people need to learn how to run by feel like that.

      Cynthia- great insight as usual. You summed up the insecurity issue nicely. I tend to use that compromise option. It satisfies that mental craving of having to run, but is short enough that its as if it’s a day off. Also, good point on muscle tension. I normally feel horrible after days off and I think it’s because of muscle tension issues.

      Niner-Thanks for posting your experience .

      Will- I COMPLETELY agree. Most people underestimate their capabilities and just think elites are some freaks who train all day. The life of an elite runner is much more stressful than most people understand.
      I’ll give to quick examples. Having trained with Alan Webb last year, I wouldn’t wish the stress or pressure that is under on anyone. Second example, is my training partner now is an Olympian, semi finalist at worlds, etc. and he has to train at an incredibly high level, works pretty much every day at the shoe store to make money, and still is skating by.
      It’s not the easy lifestyle most imagine. Me and my teammate Moises are going to be shooting some video that basically takes you through a day of our training/life schedule, so hopefully people get a better idea of the demands.

    7. Carson Boddicker on May 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm


      Interesting posts. While I have a hard time disagreeing with Vigil on much given his record of success, I go back to the ideas of chronic loading and acute relieving syndromes that Pfaff discusses.

      Repetitive stressors, with too much time, lend themselves to chronic loading syndrome where an athlete is "out of sorts" and his performance potential drops, but with a few days of altered training (even if just focusing on different biomotor abilities) he sees a significant increase above baseline.

      Keep it coming.

      Best regards,
      Carson Boddicker

    8. Andy from on March 29, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Good article and it has me wondering actually

      I'm designing a beginners 10k program this morning and I'm wrestling over 1 day of rest or 2? I think for beginners definitely ONE day with an option to take a second

      I'm thinking on these lines:

      Mon Rest, tue run, wed cross train, thur walk/run, fri cross train or rest, sat long run, sun fun run

      Do you think a second rest day might be more advisable than one, or should beginners be spending the time on their feet?

      thoughts anybody?

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