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

Sat, 25 Nov 2006 05:50:15 -0500

Rest of the Week

RUNNING COMMENTARY 651

(rerun from November 2003 RW)

When you love to run, you hate to stop. The hardest days to face are the easiest ones, when running is absent. You want to run, not rest.

I know. As a former streaker (of the running, not the clothes-shedding, type) I never took a voluntary day off. This everydayness continued from my youth (when recovery from run to run comes quickly) into my 40s (when efforts can be as big as they ever were, but getting over them takes longer).

During the last and longest streak, stretching almost five years, my runs flattened out too much. Long ones grew shorter, fast ones slower, hard ones easier, easy ones harder -- until they all felt about the same.

I avoided any runs -- hilly runs, off-road runs, group runs, races -- that would put the streak at risk. These are the very runs that had first attracted me to the sport. They were the peak experiences in running, and they're back now that I'm following them with valleys of rest.

I came to realize that "rest" is not a four-letter word. It isn't surrender to sloth but a way to make the remaining runs better.

Credit George Sheehan for teaching me this lesson at last. The longtime RW columnist preached and practiced every-other-day running. He sacrificed neither training quantity nor race quality in the process.

When George made this switch in his 50s, his mileage stayed the same. He simply ran twice as much, half as often. His most dramatic result: a 3:01 marathon PR at age 61.

I'd long accepted the training principle of mixing easy days with the hard. Now I took the next step to accepting the ultimate in easy: rest.

But like many recent converts to a new practice, I first went from one extreme to the other: from never missing a day to skipping every second one.

That was too often. Never mind that the remaining runs had doubled in length. Resting as many days as I ran seemed no longer to qualify me as a real runner.

An agreeable compromise between enough rest and too much was a weekly day off, which I began taking about 10 years ago. This usually falls on a Sunday, and of this my mother would be proud.

Back where we came from, in small-town Iowa, Mom observed the Biblical day of rest, refusing to indulge in any commercial or entertainment venture on Sunday and urging her children to abstain as well. Her husband and children were less observant.

I was a long time learning that the weekly day of rest is important for both body and soul. It keeps me from backsliding into never-ending streaking. But more than that, it provides a day for reflecting on the week past and recharging for one to come.

If you love running too much to stop, if you think "rest" is a four-letter word, if your streak has taken the peaks out of your running as it once did mine, then here are final tips from a recovering streaker. One of the tricks to continuing as a runner is knowing when to stop.

1. Earn a rest with a big effort. On the final day of your week, run farther or faster than normal, or far AND fast in a race, on the final day of your week. Then welcome the day off (or two or more days, if that run was really hard), knowing that it provides quicker and safer recovery than trying to "run out" stiffness and fatigue.

2. Make it a floating day. Sundays are sacred only in the religious sense. Your rest could come the Monday after a race, or the Wednesday of a business trip, or the Saturday after a hard week in non-running ways -- or simply as a unscheduled day when running gets squeezed out by higher priorities. Save your rest for the day you need it most.

3. Take it for your family and friends, if not yourself. They might enjoy not having to hold a meal or delay an outing while you finish a run. On your rest day, give them the time you'd normally spend running away from them.

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