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Running to Berlin, Week 7: Run or Rest?

For the first time in this marathon build up, I’m faced with the “run or not” conundrum because of a cold. Did it derail my week? All details in this full report.

Short periods of being under the weather, asking yourself should you run or rest, is an inevitable part of training for a marathon. Pushing your body and mind to the limit, week in and week out, leaves you particularly vulnerable to various germs and viruses. And if you share accommodations with kids, your chances are ten times worse. I, of course, do, and got hit by a bug this week.

Weekly Summary — Week 7

  • Total Distance Run: 136 km (84 miles)
  • Long Run: 37 km (23 miles) @ 4:20/km (6:58/mile)
  • Medium Long Run: 18 km (11 miles) @ 4:54/km (7:53/mile)
  • Workout: 10 x 1000m @ 3:45/km (6:02/mile) with 200m jog recovery

As early as Tuesday morning, I noticed something was off. I felt sluggish, and perceived effort was high compared to both heart rate and pace during the workout. Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat, and generally felt terrible.

From that point on, it was just about getting in the miles, if at all possible. And, looking back at the week with the numbers in hand, I obviously did.

Monday

I kicked the week off with a Monday easy double. As my parents were visiting, I could leave my daughter and the stroller at home. Instead, I hit local trails for both runs.

Both runs were a bit longer than I’ve normally done on Mondays so far this block. That’s because I was gearing up for a big week of training. The aim was to hit a new weekly volume peak for the training block, with around 140 kilometres (87 miles).

Tuesday

Already during my easy morning run, I noticed a certain feeling of sluggishness. Based on past experiences, I knew that didn’t bode particularly well for the afternoon workout. That said, I ascribed it to the many miles I’d run in the past couple of days.

Going into the workout, I had a loose goal of starting out at around 3:40 per k-rep (1000m), and then progress the pace towards the end. It didn’t quite end up like that.

From the outset, my perceived effort was high—much higher than heart rate would indicate. In his article The Norwegian Model of Lactate Threshold Training, Marius Bakken talks about his traffic light model for workouts:

I used the system of “green light”, “yellow light” and “red light” myself. Specifically if the warm-up heart rate was low, the lactate at a high speed was in the lower range plus the heart rate of that speed was higher than I normally had – I knew it was time to push the sessions to be longer than usual: green light.

A normal session would be yellow light, while if the heart rate on the warm-up was high and I had trouble pushing the heart rate up at a given lactate value, especially if this did not change at the 2nd or 3rd interval, it was time to quit that session early: red light.

Marius Bakken

As I don’t use lactate testing as a part of my daily training, I’ve appropriated the model in a way that I feel works well for me:

🟢 If warm-up heart rate is low, and perceived effort during the first few reps is “low” 1I write low in brackets, because the feeling is more akin to it being easy/comfortable to push through a moderate to high perceived effort compared to heart rate. On a green light day, I allow myself to push the pace or distance of the workout.

🟡 A normal day where I feel OK, without seeing anything particular in heart rate of perceived effort vis-a-vis each other, or pace/power. These days I go through with the planned workout.

🔴 When perceived effort is way off compared to heart rate—that is, PE is high and HR low—it’s a clear warning sign that something is off. These days I’ll lower the pace/power, and reduce the distance of the workout.

This was a classic red light day, and it was obvious from the outset. My heart rate was in the normal range, but I felt like I was working abnormally high to keep it there. Following my modified traffic light model, I reduced the pace to around 3:45 per rep on average, and took the number of reps down from 12 to 10.

I believe this was a good decision on the day. In the past, I’ve gone out of my way to hit the pace I’ve had in mind during days like this. Usually, it ended up with an abandoned workout before I was halfway through.

Here, I instead got in a decent workout despite not feeling great. And I did it without completely rinsing myself. (A good rule of thumb for marathon training is that you never want to rinse yourself completely in any one session!)

Wednesday

Upon waking up in the morning, I immediately knew that my struggles the day before weren’t because of tired legs. My throat and sinuses were sore, my head foggy, and I generally felt sluggish.

I’ve written before about running with a cold (it’s OK — sometimes) and finding balance between running and rest. The long and short of it is that there are no “one size fits all” rules for these situations. You have to find out what works for you.

One good thing about having a rest day per week is that it provides leeway. Since I normally have Saturdays off from running, that makes it easier for me to take a day off if I’m feeling crap on a Wednesday. Because, if I recover quickly, I can make it up for it by running on my rest day.

That’s exactly what I did on this day.

Thursday

Beyond taking a full day off as early as possible, I’ve settled on another rule of thumb for myself in these situations: As long as I’m in good enough shape to be up and about (not sick enough to have to lay in bed) I’m OK to jog.

That means no workouts, no strides, no nothing beyond easy running until I’m feeling good. Whether or not it is the most productive approach in terms of fitness, I’m not sure. But freeing myself from the eternally nagging of “should I run today or not” saves me a lot of stress, so I’ve found that this works OK for me.

Of course, these runs are rarely pleasant. I felt like death on my feet during both runs. And, in fairness, I should’ve kept it to just the one run. But the one good takeaway from this day was that none of the runs made me feel worse afterwards—and that’s usually a sign that I’ll be coming good before long.

Friday

As soon as the next afternoon, I was feeling slightly better. Mind you, I’m not increasing the pace at all until I’m feeling good again. Merely jogging at an easy pace, with the aim being to get in some mileage without bothering my immune system too much.

Saturday

When you’ve sacrificed your weekly rest day earlier in the week, you get out on your regular rest day. Although running still felt hard, I was feeling much better overall by this point. I was hopeful that I could get through my long run as planned, but this run wasn’t encouraging in that regard.

Sunday

Waking up, I made the decision to just go for it at around my regular long run pace. If I felt terrible, I’d just slow it down to a jog, or just call it if that was too straining.

Thankfully, my body had recovered. After the first 10k or so, I had shaken off all sluggishness, and was finding my groove again. That allowed me to go through with what I’d planned, and at a decent pace.

After my long run, I felt truly vindicated in the training decisions I had made this week. Despite the challenges, I ended up with a very solid training week, and one step closer to achieving my goals in Berlin eleven weeks from now.

Next week will offer new challenges, as it is time for summer holiday and vacations. Obviously my training will have to take a backseat, as the priority is ensuring that the family has a good time. But I’m still hopeful of squeezing in some decent training that will nudge my fitness in the right direction.

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By Lars-Christian Simonsen

Lars-Christian is the founder of Run161. He characterises himself as a student of the sport who is always looking to learn more.