Sleep? Who needs it.

sleepy runners colin m. lenton

photo by Colin M. Lenton

I’ve been known to say, “Sleep is overrated,” and “I hate sleeping.”

I truly do wish that sleep was not required by my body. I have so many things I want to do and loosing eight hours a day to sleep seems like such a waste. Just think of all the other things you could do during your life if you didn’t spend at least a quarter of it sleeping.

But the sad reality is, our bodies do need sleep, especially as runners. Sleep is the time when the most healing and building occurs. When the body enters REM sleep, growth hormone is released which is the main component needed to fix those micro tears we cause during strenuous workouts.

Sleep deprivation also impacts your immune system. It drops the number of T-cells, which eventually leads to getting sick. And well, if your sick you probably aren’t running.

Lack of sleep can lead to overtraining and visa versa overtraining can lead to not being able to sleep. And we all know what overtraining leads to: grumpy injured runner.

While your body is sleeping it is also processing, synthesizing and cataloging the details of how to run. It learns the way your muscles and nerves must work together to power each step and the way you need to position your body as it moves through running motions.

How much sleep do you need? The recommendation is eight to nine hours of sleep a day. If you are getting less than six hours, it’s going to hurt your running and your functioning in daily life. Ideally, you should add one minute per mile you run during the week to the usual about of time you spend sleeping. So if you usually sleep seven hours a night and run fifty-five miles a week, you should be sleeping 7 hours and 55 minutes a night.

Another good way to figure out how much sleep your body needs is to take a seven day vacation and sleep until you wake up. Don’t use an alarm clock. During days 1-4 you will be catching up on sleep so just sleep and don’t worry too much about how much you are sleeping. On days 5-7, write down the time you go to be and the time you get up each day and then average the amount of sleep you got each night. This is going to give you the best calculation based upon YOUR body’s needs.

Signs you are not getting enough sleep: you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you need caffeine to get you through the day, falling asleep when your body is at rest like at movies or meetings, or if you are hitting the snooze button more than once.

“Sleep is the most crucial part of my training. If I cannot recover from my training, then there’s no point in training.”

Ryan Hall, Marathoner.

Dance Among the Debris

The cool crisp morning air passes over my tongue and expands my belly. My arms whoosh past my waist. My feet roll gently over the earth. I want to spend as much time as I can running, but I recognize that if I want to keep running, I have to take care of other areas of my life and health, or I won’t be running long. I take every opportunity to learn more about training, injury prevention, and extra things you can do to enhance (and protect) your running.
I want to be the best runner I can be, and I’m willing to work hard, put in the miles, stretch, and strength train. Many articles and research studies come out recommending various necessary ingredients in a workout routine, including, but not limited to: stretching, nutrition, massage, ice baths, strength training, sleeping, resting, and cross training.
It is difficult to manage it all, and it is hard to know what is necessary and beneficial to YOU and your goals. There are only 24 hours in a day no matter how you cut it. Most of us have day jobs and families, which demand and deserve a lot of our attention and energy.
As a single mom, full time attorney, ultrarunner, and aspiring writer, if I stop to think about all that I want to do, and all that I currently have in motion it can be very overwhelming. I try to think about it in steps and small goals rather than as the ultimate finished masterpiece. I know that all the pieces will fall snuggly into place with patience and persistence. Sometimes I get a glimpse of all the pieces of my life swirling around in a chaotic whirlwind, and I become immobilized trapped in the eye of the storm.
The most important and helpful thing for me is to remember to be present and mindful of what is happening right now. What do I need to do right now? Of course, what I choose to do right now will influence what I can and cannot do in the future, so I must keep future goals in mind and prioritize.
For me the most important additional components in my training are injury prevention, stretching/rolling and strength training. If I can prevent an injury by adding 20 minutes to my workout each day, I will do it. An injury is going to take more time and expense than 20 minutes a day with the travel time to the physical therapist, the cost of three appointments a week for six to eight weeks. Been there, done that, no thanks.
Having a strong sense of who I am and what I want out of life keeps me from becoming too tangled. It also prevents me from taking on more projects, whether they are some fleeting interest or someone else’s request/problem. I know what I am passionate about and, which corner of the world I would like to change. I’m passionate about running and helping others conquer abuse, addiction, and domestic violence. I’ll leave the rest of the world to those who have the passion for changing it.
This does not always prevent my life from becoming a tornado-massacred trailer park. After all, I don’t live in a home populated by only me. My children’s tornados collide with mine on a regular basis and we learn to dance among the debris.

Building and Rest Go Hand in Hand

I’m going stir crazy as I taper for Salt Flats 100. All my extra energy, which usually gets spent during my runs is building. My miles will continue to come down until I’m taking three full days off of running before my race. My strength training will stop ten days before the race because it takes about ten days to see benefits from any strength training. Taking time to rest is just as important as building your miles. Without the rest, building strength does not happen. As we push our bodies to go farther and father distances building up to that goal race, our muscles, ligaments, and tendons get micro tears in them. These tears are not necessarily a bad thing, because as they heal we become stronger. But, we have to let them heal.

There are some basic golden rules about building miles, which all runners should know and look for when they are deciding on a training program. The first is never build more than 10% a week. So for example if you’re running three five mile runs a week, you can safely add 1.5 miles the next week. The second golden rule is to reduce your miles by 20-25% every fourth week. If you’re a more injury prone runner, you can change that down week to an elliptical week or a pool-running week.

Pool running is great for maintaining your fitness when you are injured and for letting your body really rest from the impact of running. Pool running is as difficult as you want make it. You get into the deep end of the pool with a floatation belt (you can do it without one, but it is much harder). Most pools have floatation belts you can borrow. Once you’re in the water, you want to maintain an upright position as you move your arms and legs as you would if you were running out on the road. Even when you are running hard in the pool, you should not be moving forward much. If you are, you are leaning too far forward. On a rest week, you just want to take things kinda easy and run for the time it would take you to run your reduced mileage for the day.

Overtraining is an issue many runners struggle with. How do you know if you are overtraining? You feel sluggish, your legs feel like lead even after an easy run, you heart rate is elevated when you are at rest, and your friends and family tell you that you’re being grumpy all the time. Overtraining means you are not respecting your body’s limits, you’re not listening to your body, and you are dancing with the injury demon, who is waiting for the most inconvenient time to strike. If you find yourself in this situation, take two to three days off totally and then see how you feel. If you are okay, start with a reduced week back to running and then make sure you are following all the rules.

Your taper is an extended rest period before a race. It needs to be long enough to allow your body to fully recover, but short enough that you will not lose any aerobic fitness. For a marathon, your taper is generally two weeks long. You can use the same type of taper for a 50k. For a 50 or 100 mile race, your taper is three weeks. Many runners get antsy with the extra energy, but it is important kill the urge to go out and run or do some other physically taxing activity. The idea is for you to be at 100% on race day, so nothing will stand in the way of that metal being hung around your neck or the belt buckle being placed in your hand as you scorch across the finish line.

Enjoy a new book, lay in the hammock for a little longer, take the bubble bath you haven’t had time for, or go to the movie and eat a whole tub of popcorn!