Down Time – Forget About Your Legs, Rest Your Brain!

Crazy runners … spending all that time and energy out there pounding and punishing their bodies to only become more efficient and faster at, well, pounding and punishing their bodies.  New runners, old runners, first time 5k walkers, ultra marathoners … we all have our limits and one of the greatest joys of distance running is exceeding those limits after putting forth the hard work….

Hard work, yes, I said hard work.  In the rain, the snow, the sun, cramping muscles, gut rot, puking, aching, and the always exciting … gastrointestinal distress without a shred of toilet paper for 10 more miles.  But what makes us get out there and endure this pain, distress, and WANT to get out and break ourselves down again the next day?  It’s got to be something so tough, so rough, and so awe-inspiring it’ll make the manliest of men (i.e. Paul Bunyan) feel as though they need their diapers changed … get ready … it’s so manly and insane …. it is …. REST.

Yeah – rest, you know, like laying down and drooling on yourself?  There is no way runners could be as tough as they are without the proper rest and down time.  Think of the rest-work balance we endure everyday; if you get 4 hours of sleep one night instead of 8 when do you feel the effects of that sleep loss?  I feel it the next day, but even more sometimes the following days and if you really set yourself back by staying up all night you’ll feel it the next week.  The same principle holds for large training cycles and periodization in your training on the large month-to-month or year-to-year time scales.  You could have the most fantastic year of racing – being incredibly race sharp, very fit, and strong.  After a successful year of this new level of fitness there is always a tendency to just keep plowing through the off-season and of course your fitness will always be on the rise, right?  Wrong!  Our bodies break down and when we don’t let them build back up stronger and recover, successful hard training turns into a spiral of burnout.  Beside the physical limitations of our human bodies to take such beatings, there is another major part of us that needs rest … our minds.

As stated on this very website’s homepage, successful distance running is more than simply just going out and running a bunch.  Planning smart training and being intentional in what we do takes a lot of mental effort as well.  At the peak of training our mind is being pushed to adjust our training, eat right, and adopt a healthy lifestyle outside of just putting on running shoes and getting out the door.  Man, I feel good today – do I feel too good?  Is it cause I’m not doing enough?  Am I doing too much?  Did I break the 10% rule last week?  Should I be running these intervals faster? Less rest? More rest? More reps? What time of day is best for me to run?  OUR BRAIN NEEDS REST FROM THIS!!!  This doesn’t always mean just sleeping more or not running; this can also mean active rest and what I like to call “run however the crap I feel like”.

Following up last week’s post on Marathon Recovery – Learning to Love Stairs, a true recovery will address the rest that our body and minds need.  At the closure of fall marathon and road racing season, a lot of people are getting ready to head into winter for the off-season for a nice build up to spring.  Before we get every single rep, workout, long run, tune up race, and goal race on the calendar and start freaking out if we just had too much or too little caffeine or if running 4.5 miles will be too much but 4.27 miles is just not enough for today, let’s just take a break, sit back, and ask ourselves, do I want to go for a run right now?  Will it be enjoyable?  I need time to just relax and chill – is running going to help relieve stress in my life or give me more to stress about?  While out on the run, obsessing over pace, mile markers, and what you have to do tomorrow is harmful during this period of regrouping … just run. Your mind and body will let you know when they’re ready to take another beating and when they do, rest them a little more before throwing them to the wolves again.  There will be plenty of weeks and months ahead to think, plan, and run hard …. but for now, just be out there.  Your future hard work will be more effective and fun because of it!

Next recovery and training related blog post:  Running Watches – when to use one, none, GPS, and everything in between.


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