Finding balance

Rest and recovery are just as important as running when you're training

Now that we’re just over two months into our training together, and just a few weeks away from the virtual half we’ll run together on November 14, I wanted to take a moment to press pause.

Stopping and being still is no easy thing in our culture. There’s so much pressure — spoken and unspoken, conscious and unconscious — to keep moving all the time, to keep going no matter what.

And right now, for a lot of us that’s just reality. We have kids and other family members to take care of while we’re also trying to do our jobs, and many of the support systems we’ve always relied on — like schools — aren’t there for us right now. (For very good reasons, to be sure.)

Similarly, with running we can feel a need to do more, more, more — especially as we gain experience. The more we train, the faster we can get and the more adapted our bodies are to our training. So, we can feel the need to keep going to the next level.

But at regular intervals, we need to stop.

Our bodies need time to regenerate just as much as they need activity. Even though often, we don’t want to listen to them when they’re asking for exactly that.

John Bingham, the famed former columnist for Runner’s World, understood how natural that desire is, describing it in his 1999 book The Courage to Start:

“… as our bodies begin to adapt to the new activity level, we want to push them beyond what is comfortable. We want to challenge ourselves. We want to feel the satisfaction that comes in doing more than we ever have. At any stage, this constant search for that which lies just beyond our abilities can be a potentially dangerous mindset.”

A big reason why it’s so easy to get pulled into this mindset, he adds, is that often rest days are imposed on us. We don’t choose them. Instead, the rest of our lives — family and work responsibilities, schedules, our child’s illness, etc. — pulls us away from our training, and we feel like we’ve been unproductive.

Nothing could be further from the truth, Bingham says:

“But resting is not doing nothing. Resting is giving the body a chance to recoup, to renew itself, and ultimately to rebuild itself into a body that will move faster or farther. The rest phase is the only time that the body has to bring itself up to your expectations.

The training effect that we all want, the changes in our body’s ability to handle the stress of running occurs during the rest phase, not the activity phase. The adaptation process takes place while you are resting. The days when you don’t run are the days when your body incorporates the new strength needed for the next run.”

If you’re really interested in this, science writer Christie Aschwanden’s 2019 book Good to Go offers up a deep dive into the latest science behind recovery and rest. A former competitive skier, she writes at the end of her book about what experience taught her:

“If there’s one thing I wish I could go back and tell my younger self it would be this: learn to read your own body and pay attention to what it’s telling you. My susceptibility to injury and over-training limited my potential in the same way that my aerobic capacity, long limbs, and unusually fast response to training raised it. In the end, my fragility wasn’t simply a matter of bad luck, it was the thing I needed to manage if I were to reach my athletic potential.

Instead, I too often ignored my body’s cries for rest and tried to will myself well. Whether it was a nagging fatigue that I wished I didn’t have or the twinge in my hamstring that reappeared at inconvenient times, my knee-jerk response for too long was to cover my ears and say, nah-nah-nah, I don’t hear you! Deep down, I knew that what my body really needed was a break, but my mind didn’t want to accept this. I get antsy when I go too long without moving. But denying yourself needed recovery only digs you into a deeper hole, and I’ve come to realize that the proper way to answer my body’s cries for rest isn’t to push through, but to master the art of stillness.

I wanted to share this with you guys today because I know that so often — especially in the later stages of a training program — it’s very easy to get pulled into always pushing for more. (Especially on those long runs!)

But it’s just as important to know when to slow down and take a break. What do you think?

— Terrell

Words to run by

“We have all learned everything we know physically—from walking to running a marathon—by trial and error, so there's no reason to become our own worst enemies when we suffer a setback. From time to time everyone falls short of their goals. It's an illusion to believe that champions succeed because they do everything perfectly. You can be certain that every archer who hits the bull's-eye has also missed the bull's-eye a thousand times while learning the skill.”

— Amby Burfoot