Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 28 Nov 1998 12:51:43 -0500

Less Ease, Please

(from RC 278)

Of my many e-mail penpals the busiest by far is Richard Englehart. We fire notes back and forth almost daily between Massachusetts and Oregon.

These usually run only a few sentences on whatever interests us that day. Rich, a professor of psychology, leaves few subjects unexamined. I mostly respond to his comments.

A recent discussion took much more than our usual few lines. It brought up a topic that gets wider airing on this page.

Rich wrote, "My racing performances have been bad and getting worse for at least a decade now. The drop-off is far beyond what normal aging would account for."

I knew him as a devotee of high mileage, and knew too that earlier this year he'd added intervals and hill work to his usual diet of slow training. My suggestion was that he might be overtrained.

"You're already training long. You run every day and average well above an hour. This is difficult, no matter how 'easy' the runs seem.

"Then you add a new hard workout, and this really drains you. My guess is that you might profit from some really easy days and -- horrors! -- even a day completely off now and then."

I'm a salesman for easy runs and rest days. But Rich wasn't buying.

"If the problem is overtraining," he said, "shouldn't I be experiencing some of the other symptoms that all the articles list? Slow race times is the only symptom that shows up."

Then he made a point that gets to the heart of today's article: "I rarely feel exceptionally tired when doing 80 or more miles a week. But there have been times when I've dropped into the 60s to see if I would feel completely fresh.

"Oddly enough, whenever I let the mileage drop that far I feel exhausted most of the time. The exhaustion always goes away if I get back above 80 a week consistently."

This isn't as odd as it might sound. Rich, the psychologist, knows that running reactions don't follow the logical pattern -- each step harder than the one before, with resting being easier than running.

Other runners report reactions similar to Rich's. They talk of feeling sluggish when mileage drops and when coming off a rest day.

Two longtime readers of this newsletter have made such claims. Tom Mann said recently ("Rest of the Week," July RC) that he felt his best in years after adding back some lost days and upping his pace.

Paul Reese ran across the United States at age 73, and all the remaining states by 80. He grew stronger while running 20 to 26 miles a day, without taking any days off.

Tom and Paul support Rich Englehart's point: that running is delightfully illogical. Energy isn't necessarily highest at the start of a run, with a straight-line decline until fatigue peaks at the end. Running day after day isn't necessarily draining, and rest isn't automatically restorative.

Doing more can make you feel better. Taking less ease can please you.

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