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Rest Day with: Sarah Thomson


Sarah Thomson is the ultimate adrenaline junkie. Having achieved so much in her life already, including breaking the World Record for the fasted completion of the 870 mile Wales Coast Path, solo and self-supported, it comes as no surprise that she has also been the BBC Ultimate Hell Week Recruit and ITV Bear Grylls Survival School Instructor. More recently, Sarah joined the Royal Air Force where she is currently undergoing training. So, what can we learn from Sarah about rest days and pushing to the extreme?

1. Why is a rest day important for working out and how often should you take them?

Rest days are essential because this is when your body repairs and recovers. The work days break down muscle fibres and deplete energy systems, and the rest days act as ‘get stronger’ days. It’s where the magic happens.

The amount of rest days you take really depends on your goals and your sport. People lifting heavy loads and looking to gain muscle mass and strength may take 2 rest days a week, as the heavy load breaks down muscle fibres much more, and they need more time to rebuild. Endurance athletes will, most often, take fewer rest days as their body needs to be able to cope with prolonged periods of time under fatigue, especially when racing in multi-day events. They might be looking at one rest day a week or one rest day every 2 weeks. What we are starting to see more of now, is ‘active recovery’ days. Taking on low impact activities that aid recovery by continuing circulation and mobility without the added load. Things such as swimming and gentle yoga.

I personally find rest days very challenging, but that’s because I work on cross-disciplines. I am an ultra-distance runner, but also do CrossFit and Obstacle Course Racing amongst many other things… they don’t really marry in terms of programming so it can be a challenge to fit rest in. I will normally take one rest day a month, but some training days will be much lower in intensity than others, so it does undulate and vary.

2. What do you eat on a rest day? What is your dream rest day meal?

A ton of protein haha! Because I think of rest days as ‘get stronger’ days, I like to put in the protein to aid that repair. I will often have a complex carbohydrate meal as well, that will replenish stocks for the next week of training. I don’t eat rice in the week, but I love it! I will normally make a big chicken, rice and vegetable dish. I eat clean most of the time, but on the rest days, I just increase portion sizes, add in complex carbs and give my body whatever it’s craving.

3. What's your ideal rest day?

I HATE sitting still! Surfing used to be my main sport and I loved those rest days, sat on the beach and swimming in the sea, catching up with my good friends. We would normally go for a snorkel and sip coconuts on the beach, or go cliff jumping. I’m in a different environment for the time being so I normally go for a gentle swim, then a walk somewhere green. I use the day to programme the coming week and food prep. Fresh air and good food are what really matters for me.

4. If you could give one tip for recovery days, what would it be?

Don’t waste them! I think if you’re really driven and motivated, rest days can be the hardest day of the week because you feel like you should be training. If you have something to look forward to in place, it makes it easier. Learn a new skill or catch up with an old friend, or use it to do things that will save you time on training days when you know you’ll be tired.

5. What is your guilty rest day pleasure? (e.g. pizza, Netflix binge, wine etc...)

I love chocolate brownies! But, they are normally a treat after an ultra-marathon as opposed to a rest day. I don’t drink, but I do love food!

6. How do you prepare for such big events and how do you motivate yourself to get back into training after?

I think having so many events lined up keeps you pretty motivated. I spend pretty much every day of every week preparing myself for what’s coming next. I split the year into 3-month chunks and write down what I want to achieve by the end of that time. Of course, these will change sometimes.

I’ve had some massive setbacks this year with injury, location and funding. What I wanted by the end of this year is very far from happening now, BUT, everything I can’t do has been replaced by something I can do.

As long as you know what you want and why you want it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t achieve what you set out too. Motivation comes from a desire to be a certain way, or do certain things. Once you’ve found the answer to that, it just comes down to discipline and how bad you want it.

7. Is a rest day, really an absolute rest day? Do you have any stretches or conditioning routines on a rest day? Or is it proper rest?

I can’t stress enough how much it differs from person to person. What works for you may be COMPLETELY different to what works for me. You kind of have to trial and error these things. It’s all about listening to your body and giving it what it needs to let you perform how you want it to perform.

8. You’ve travelled a lot, what are your most favourite forms of exercise/activity when exploring various parts of the world?

Surfing and Snowboarding are my absolute jam! I started travelling when I was 15 and I’ve had the most incredible time. Now, if I’m away, I make sure I find a CrossFit box to go, and the beauty of running is that you can do it absolutely anywhere!

9. Do you have any tips for recovery for people who have arthritis? Osteo, rheumatoid or just everyday wear and tear.

Take away the impact. Swimming is a great way to stay fit and strong without causing damage. Cycling is also a good low impact alternative. I wouldn’t be able to say 100% as it depends on where the issues are in the body and the severity of it. But impact is best avoided.

10. Do you have anything in the pipeline that you’re training for?

    This years looking pretty mega! I’m racing in the European and World Championships for Obstacle Course Racing, running across the Jordan desert, hopefully re-joining the UK Pro Surf tour and heading out to Iceland in December for something exciting too ...

    Don’t miss Sarah speak at BodyPower 2018! Flexiseq will also be there at stand G32. Come say hi and watch out for the giant Flexiseq knee…

    You can also Follow Sarah here: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube