I have trouble resting. I think I am not alone. I may not look like I have trouble resting but I do. Just because I can sit cross-legged on the floor silent for an hour thinking about a single topic while staring out into the middle distance does not necessarily mean I am all that successful at rest. Thinking (of course) is work and I am very often tired. I know that some of you are a bit worn around the edges at times as well. We all need to rest. We do not all live in a culture that even acknowledges that fact. When it comes to running I can think of some times in my life where this has been abundantly clear.
I remember my second and my fourth or fifth marathon. The times for both were abysmal (although to be sure finishing a marathon at all is an accomplishment a person should be proud of no matter what the time). The times weren’t even that far off between the two races. But the results were life changing and could not have been more different. The difference between the two races was, of course, rest.
On the second marathon I had learned so much from the experience (only a year before) of my first one that I was real eager to put that new-found knowledge and experience to use and better my time. I had been undertrained on the first marathon and so I set out the next year to remedy that mistake and I put in a lot more miles and signed up for the same race again.
I trained and trained and trained. I had better clothing (I had actually gotten mildly hypothermic during my first marathon), I had better fueling, and I even worked out the lube situation much more satisfactorily (if you know you know). My pacing strategy was better and I had more tricks for keeping to it (and was even the first person in my town to buy the very first running specific GPS watch). And of course, I not only logged more miles leading up to the race but I also logged many of them on the course itself.
What I did not do was rest. I don’t think “recovery” was really in my vocabulary. When I arrived at the starting line I was worn out. I don’t think I really knew that I was… but I was what I would now describe as “way in the hole.” If I knew then what I know now…
By the end of that second marathon I had hurt my knee so badly that I did not run a step for two years. I was just too tired. My muscles were tired. My tendons were tired. My nervous system was tired. My whole body was screaming at me to stop and I couldn’t even hear the sound of it. I didn’t even make the decision to ignore the signs. I just didn’t know what they were or why they mattered. I worked myself into the ground and I payed a steep price for it. I did not PR (of course) and I did not know why.
Now when it comes to the fourth or fifth marathon I did (which yes, also happened to be the same race as the first and second) things were very different. Not only did I rest (although not entirely as a plan at the time) but I felt fresh when I showed up at the starting line. I was undertrained again (much like the first race) but I was not tired and not worn out and not “in the hole.”
So at the end of that marathon I felt absolutely fine. I went to a restaurant after the race and we ate on the second floor. It was not hard to walk up and down the stairs. I went for a run the next day (and that short run felt genuinely good). I was not injured. I just kept running. Now my time was very slow on that race and I think I can easily attribute that to the under training. But because I was rested I just had a slow race and went about life happy as a clam in soft sand. And my work schedule genuinely got in the way of more training leading up to that fourth or fifth marathon and rather than taking it out of my sleep I would just go to bed and start again the next day. So while sometimes I was not progressing in the sport specific fitness and skill leading up to that race I was also not digging myself into a giant devestating hole.
While some people have rightly commented that you cannot over-train you can only under recover (and while I might prefer the accuracy and tone of that specific language) it is not the semantics that I want to focus on. What I want to point out (as much to myself as to you my beloved reader) is that people need rest. In the first example I could not be faulted for my work ethic- but in hindsight I could be faulted for my ignorance (which to be sure is often very impressive). In the second example I had clearly learned something and had adjusted my expectations accordingly. My hope is that in the future I will be able to draw on this lesson and remember that I need to rest in all areas of life- trusting that my hard work will not pay off the way I think it will if I overreach.
So while I want you to dream big and try hard things (and I want that for myself as well) I know that we will all require rest along the way.