Today is some bullshit holiday called National Running Day. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (yet) so its gotta be some marketing crap. Until Obama makes it a national holiday, I won’t get too excited.
But as my homage to running, I wanted to talk about rest days. Rest days are days without running. And given that today is a day you are supposed to run, I figured we should start by examining the opposite — days that you do not run.
I hate rest days. Starting to hate recovery. Its so backwards. You might think after running a bunch (especially if you are just an occasional runner) that you would rejoice in not having to pound pavement for a day. However, in my continued journey through this sport, I have found that things change with how you and your body perceive and utilize a rest day.
Recently, I was pulling some info to show Rocky from St. Louis who will be attempting his first 50 miler in Leadville this summer. We have been chatting via email. I was curious about my lead up to my first 50 in Leadville so I went back and was reviewing training logs and seeing the (now) relatively low weekly mileage with 4-6 runs per week. I remember partially enjoying the rest days back then. Things hurt in my body and it was good to give them a day to rest before getting out again.
However, the negative effect of the rest day at that point was the day after. Getting back on the horse. Things were always tight, stiff, and I would question my interest in running that day. So whatever gain I got from the day of recovery was sort of spent on the negativity of the day after. I am not sure that it was even a net positive event.
Over time, I found myself not wanting to have that feeling of restarting the systems again. It was too painful. As my body started running more efficiently, I started aching less. I didn’t need the rest day to recover from any aches. So I got much more consistent at running 5-6 days per week. That change helped me a lot as it moved my mileage up and kept me running more good efforts during the course of the week as I had more time on my hands to run.
I only would take the one day off because “that’s what you are supposed to do”. I have read it so many different ways in books and magazines. “Only Kenyans run 7 days a week”, they say. Now, I know you don’t want to pound yourself into the ground everyday of course, but running itself can be a recovery activity. That should be common knowledge at this point. Running easy recovers you faster than sitting in a chair. Sure, you could cross-train that day instead. But if you like to run, getting on a bike makes no sense to me.
Anyway, when I finally stepped up to the point where I was able to start utilizing the “top level” of the Garmin/Runner’s World marathon training schedules, it was the first time they had you going 7 days a week. Now, the 7th day was an easy/recovery day and was optional. But it was on there. So I ran it. And from then on, I got sort of hooked on the principle that you just “run everyday”. There are no rest days, just easy and hard days. You don’t make excuses not to run once you cross this point. You make excuses about how to get your run in. The mindset finally flipped 180 degrees.
As an added bonus, once that new mindset sets in. It continues to break new ground by trying to find ways to make excuses to run multiple times in a single day. Because your body knows that in that moment where you are sailing along, nothing hurts, you are sweating, you are consuming fuel, and you are zoned out — it doesn’t get any better.
So when I end up taking a rest day now and then (averaging 1 every 3 weeks now), it sucks. I think its going to feel great. My body is going to recharge and then the day after will be filled with unbridled energy and speed the likes you have never seen. But its not. I get out there and I run like I have something stuck up my ass. Stiff! I am hacking up a lung. I sound like an old car that you just got out of storage. People looked at me at the park today like I was some dude who decided to make a New Years Resolution to get fit and there he is out trying to run. It sucks. My weight usually goes up a good 3-5 pounds too. My digestive system is used to burning through a lot of calories a day. I can try to limit it on the rest day but that doesn’t work. I am typically hungrier than I have ever been. Running creates some internal desire to eat more appropriately whereas the lack of running makes you hungrier. I don’t get it but I realize its there.
However, by the end of this usual 9 mile loop this morning, I started getting a feel for my legs again. The snot was blown all over the 8 miles that I just covered so my head was starting to clear. My lungs were starting to open up again. And my heart rate was elevated once again into a comfortable range of work. And in that moment, I pledged to run again tomorrow and not take another rest day ever again…or at least for another 3 weeks.
I am not the all-star performer of the group of runners that I hang with. But that’s why I like hanging with them. They encourage me to do more and show me various paths to completing that goal. But now and then, I get brought back to the reality of our population that isn’t so fit or so active. A neighbor will often catch me by the curb near the end of a run when I have a moment and ask things like “how did you get into running?” or “how can I make it stop hurting when I run?”. People often have the desire but not the patience to figure it out. So while its not exactly what I did, I often try and tell them what I would do if I had to do it all over again:
Run a little today. Run a little further more tomorrow. Repeat.