Ironman champ: The importance of R&R

Chrissie Wellington takes a break after winning the Challenge Roth Triathlon with a new long distance world record in 2011.

Story highlights

  • Rest and recovery are just as important as working out during training
  • Champ suggests athletes spend around 10% of total training time cooling off
  • Getting enough sleep is vital -- try to log 8 or 9 hours a night
My first coach once suggested that in order to be successful, he would need to cut my head off.
"You don't know how to relax," was one of his criticisms. "You don't know how to rest your body and mind. Unless you can learn to do this, you will never be a successful athlete."
He was right. I was that proverbial chicken. Given that "rest" only entered my vocabulary as the beginning of a word ending in "-aurant," I nearly reached for the carving knife and performed the decapitation there and then.
Yes, I was able to beast myself with the best of them. I could swim/bike/run until I was falling over with exhaustion. But this wasn't enough.
No amount of ticks in the logbook, no amount of training sessions would create a champion. The puzzle would always be incomplete unless I could develop the all-important, as-yet missing piece of the jigsaw: rest and recovery.I am sure those words are as alien and scary to the CNN Fit Nation Team as they were to me.
Some of us are creatures of habit, loving routine. Some of us are obsessive-compulsive perfectionists who break out in hives at the thought of an easy session, a nap or, heaven forbid, a rest day. Some of us are so scared of not reaching our goal, that we lose perspective and rational thought -- unable to rest in case we get weaker.
But I cannot say this clearly enough: It is not the swim/bike/run sessions that will make you fitter; it is the recovery -- the adaptation and regeneration from the stress caused by those activities. And it is not just about physical recovery, it's mental recovery/relaxation too.
That's why I say that I train 24/7. Recovery is training my body to be the best that it can be. I know that the CNN team has to balance training with jobs, families and other commitments, and that fitting recovery into their daily lives and weekly schedules can be difficult, but it shouldn't be impossible. And it must be seen as part of training for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, not as an add-on or a luxury.
So, what form should this rest and recovery take? Space is too tight to do justice to all of the different techniques, so I have picked some of the most important.
Easy training/active recovery
The emphasis is on the word "easy." If you are not being overtaken by a grandmother (apologies to all the 60+ age group triathletes) in a motorized shopping cart, then you are not going easy enough.
If it goes from being a 90-minute spin on the bike to a two-hour ride with a few hills, then you have totally changed the nature of the ride -- and its purpose. Hard sessions/days should be followed by an easy session.
Also important is a cool down after a hard workout. It doesn't have to be long, but I would suggest that you spend around 10% of your total training time cooling off -- this can also include targeted, light stretching afterward.
Rest days
I have about two total rest days a month. This may not sound like a lot, but pros have the luxury that age groupers often don't. We can rest between sessions while you are juggling all your balls (not literally).
There is no hard and fast rule, but I would suggest incorporating a rest day once every seven to 10 days. The key is to listen to your body and its signals, irrespective of your planned training schedule. Spending the afternoon trawling the Gap for a bargain, pulling up every weed in your overgrown garden or trying in vain to assemble a wardrobe do not count as rest.
Buttocks-on-sofa is the position to assume.
To reiterate, it is not wasted time. Push aside any (unnecessary and self-destructive) feelings of guilt or laziness and trust that resting makes you better, faster, stronger and more resilient (and also gives you the chance to watch "Top Gun" for the 100th time).
Sleep
Knocking out the ZZZs is something I always hated. "I can sleep when I'm dead" was an oft-uttered mantra of mine.
No longer. I love to sleep. We don't all have this luxury, but I try to get eight to nine hours of shuteye a night, and having a routine is key. I go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.