How Rest & Sleep Make You a Better Runner



Rest is just as important as running while training for a half marathon. Getting enough sleep, taking rest days, and respecting the taper are the three main components of rest. Proper rest during training will lead to better and faster recovery, which will lead to better and faster running!

(MORE: 13 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon)

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and the release of hormones if sleep is cut short. Regular, deep sleep is essential for runners who are aiming to maintain steady and regular workouts.

The three R’s

Chris, a professional running coach and specialist from Nebraska, suggests the 3 R’s to his athletes: repair, recover and rebuild. Additionally, he suggests that his runners get nine or more hours of sleep every night to maximize the recovery process.

Everyone has different sleep needs, but tacking on an extra 30 minutes to an hour each night can really make a difference in performance. Go to bed 5 to 10 minutes earlier each night for a week until you are comfortably able to give up that portion of your evening.

It may be hard at first to sacrifice a bit of your awake time, especially when we all lead busy lives, but the rewards will be great come race day.

Rest days

Taking rest days is difficult for a lot of runners. When your training plan is going well and your body feels great, it is easy to overdo it. The temptation to squeeze in another run, even a couple of miles, can be detrimental to your body’s recovery process.

Abby, an eight-time half marathoner from Delaware, says it’s always best to “stick to the rest days in your training plan — that’s when you’ll get stronger.” Cross-training can be great to give your running muscles a break. However, remember to have at least one day of complete rest from vigorous exercise a week.

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Christine, a five-time half marathon finisher from Connecticut suggests, “Avoid going a whole week without a rest day, because I promise you’ll start feeling it negatively affecting your energy levels and performance.”

If feeling fatigued becomes an issue, incorporate rest into your training plan. Log the hours of sleep you are getting and make commitments to do other activities on rest days. Evaluate how you feel on the days that you do feel rested and review your training log to find any correlations. Some people are fully recovered after 24 hours of rest, some require 36 to 48 hours.


The last piece of the rest puzzle is respecting the taper. Most running plans will instruct runners to run minimal distances in the last couple of weeks leading up to their race. Mileage will reduce dramatically and hard workouts will become obsolete. After months of ramping up both intensity and time, it can be difficult to cut back. However, fight the urge to run long and hard.

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Four-time half marathoner M.J. Allen from Virginia notes, “follow the taper in the plan of your choice, even if it drives you nutty.” Utilize your down time wisely and remember to stay moderately active with light walking or other low-intensity exercise. Stay away from long, intense bouts of cross-training which can harm your chances of feeling refreshed on race day.

“If you push too long and too hard leading up to the race, it will likely hurt you on race day,” advises Steve Miazgowicz, a four-time half-marathoner from Michigan. Trust the training plan and stick to the taper. Your legs will thank you throughout the entire race.

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