#133: Rest or Risk Burnout?

#133: Rest or Risk Burnout?
5 minutes to read

When my family went to Cornwall for a week on holiday recently, my husband and I decided that it would be a full training break for both of us. Our standard weeks are spent dividing up our spare time so that one of us can run or gym, while the other one looks after the children. As a result, we’re pretty much ships who pass in the night. 

Plus, I’m shortly starting my training for my next half marathon, and he’s doing the same for his next marathon in October. This was the perfect time to leave the running shoes at home, and loosen the ropes a little.

But I knew it would be hard. I’m a creature of habit and routine, and although when I’m beasting myself on the crosstrainer all I can think is “I need to REST”, I’m actually useless at rest. In my current training routine, I don’t have a rest day. I stagger the areas that I work out, and some days are way less intense than others, but there isn’t a single day of my week where I haven’t already done 30 minutes of exercise before 8am. Even on the days where I hit the gym in the evenings, I still start my day with a workout because it wakes my body and mind up.

When we arrived, I was immediately relieved to note that 1. the roads around our holiday ‘resort’ were narrow, bendy, hilly country lanes, and to run along them would be dicing with death. 2. There was no on-site gym, and I’d have to drive at least 20 miles to reach one. This alleviated my guilt nicely. There was, however, a pool. This was fine – swimming is a superb low impact exercise so I knew if I was absolutely climbing the walls, I could chip in a few lengths.

As it happened, it WAS tough, but the days were so intense looking after the gruesome twosome that both my husband and I were dog tired by 7pm. We also ate and drank heartily, and actually, if you’d offered me a grand on Thursday to run 10 miles I’d have told you to sod off. I guess in the back of my mind I knew that I’d already laid the groundwork, and a week off in the grand scheme of things wouldn’t have THAT much of a detrimental effect. However wobbly I was feeling (literally wobbly), I could tell myself that in a week’s time I’d be back in my old routine, nobody was forcing me to quit training forever.

On the Thursday (you know, the one where I couldn’t have run for money), a friend posted a photo on Instagram listing out reasons why it’s so important to rest. I really needed to read those. So, for the benefit of the room:

Rest days:

Restock glycogen stores

Build strength

Minimise fatigue

Reduce risk of overuse injuries

Avoid mental burnout

Help your body to repair itself

True – every one. I also think, if you’re training for a big event. your body doesn’t KNOW that. It’s simply responding to the demands that you’re putting on it, in accordance with your race plan. It doesn’t know, for example, that in a month’s time you’ll start tapering. If you keep pushing and pushing it, eventually you’ll hit the wall.

So, when we got back from holiday and I’d done about eight loads of washing (no shit), I was excited to get out my gym gear. I was planning to do my usual Sunday hardcore session, which involves an eight mile run plus two gym classes plus a weights circuit. It’s killer, but it works. Anyway, I set my alarm for 6.30am, left my house at 7.30am, and almost died on the run to the gym alone.

I mean, bloody HELL.

My legs were like tree trunks made of lead. I was wheezing and panting like a 90 year old ashtray. My mouth was drier than the Sahara. What was wrong with me?! I started to mildly panic, which only set my breathing and my pace off even more. I made it to the gym and fell onto my spin bike, where I managed to put in a fairly respectable performance. Ditto Legs, Bums and Tums. But my weights were hard: I felt utterly piss-weak with hardly any upper body strength, and by that point I had a savage headache. It was as if my body had literally forgotten how to work out. I mean, I know we’d driven 200 miles the previous day, but I’d been resting ALL WEEK.

Do you ever feel like screaming at your body to man the hell up?

I spent Sunday afternoon on a complete downer, telling myself I was useless and a fraud for thinking I’d achieved some sort of level of fitness. By the evening, after I’d wrung myself out emotionally with pressure and self-doubt, I got my sensible brains in gear. The human body doesn’t depreciate THAT much, that fast. I’d just gone from being 100mph every day, to comparatively lazy. I hadn’t increased my heartrate enough on holiday (mind out of the gutter, folks) or worked muscles that I usually train regularly. For a week, I’d put everything on hold. And you don’t instantly bounce back from that, there’s an inevitable fug for a while. Like having a lie-in when you’ve got kids – you actually feel a bit shit for the extra sleep.

It got better. I decided that the week following our break was not the time to set new records and smash PRs, I just wanted to focus on getting my stamina back and reintroduce the routine of daily exercise.I also realised that my body is appallingly stiff and creaky for one so young (!) so my next goal is to factor in some proper stretching and foam-rolling. Watch this space…

-SJW July 2017


  1. August 28, 2017 / 8:17 am

    It’s amazing how quick you can feel out of shape but equally muscle memory is a fan thing. It’s definitely good to have a break every now and then. I only worked out about 4 times during our 9 day holiday as it was just too hot!! Xx

    • August 28, 2017 / 8:41 am

      Thank you, you look incredible at the moment! It’s a balance and I think a lot of it is mentality – I could train for 10 days solid and then take a rest day but feel about 6 stone heavier on the rest day. Glad you had a lovely hot holiday xx

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