Part III – Lessons from the Run: REST

How many of you don’t believe in making time for rest?  Who thinks of rest as a waste of time or as indulgent?  Any of you tell yourselves, “As soon as I complete these tasks, then I’ll rest” and then the list of tasks just keeps growing?  Who worries you’ll get left behind or passed by?

From my experience, professionally, academically and personally, it is a badge of honor, a bragging point not to “need” rest.  Oh, the irony that this post has taken me so long to finally write, not because I’ve been letting myself take a break from writing or working or adding to my to-do list, I’ll be honest, but rather I continue to fill my plate to overflowing, and even an essay on the importance of rest falls to the bottom, ha!  I realize fully the value of rest and certainly am careful to rest when it comes to running, however I have been deeply challenged to integrate the theme into other aspects of my life.  In writing this post, I am reminded once again that my journey to integrate the lessons of the run and rest into other areas of my life continues.  In sharing the what I have learned about rest as it pertains to training for a marathon, I fully own that change is hard and at the same time, worth pursuing.

From the run, I have learned the importance of rest the hard way, of course!  When I began running marathons after college, I took on the challenge in order to fill a void, to fill a sense of not being enough.  All of my college friends were applying to grad school, PhD programs, law school, business school, med school, or negotiating high-paying jobs in finance.  I didn’t know what I really wanted to do and was feeling less than, so achiever that I am, I set out to run a marathon. I had to keep up!!

In high school, I went out for cross-country my sophomore year and wanting to be successful, I trained hard, ran every day, and tackled those two-a-day training sessions with ambition, determination, and grit.  I ended up with a stress fracture so severe I wasn’t able to walk and didn’t just get one of the removable boots to wear while it healed, but qualified for six weeks in an old-school cast.  Lesson learned: I can’t run everyday.

So when I set out to train for my first marathon, I looked up training plans, and knowing I personally couldn’t run everyday, I used them as a basis and improvised. I knew I needed to log miles, but I also needed to build my lung capacity, endurance, and cardiovascular stamina.  I swam, weight-trained, went to spin classes and ran three times per week, careful to also mix up my running days with speed work and distance training. 

My plan of attack worked, and I successfully completed my first marathon, the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, PA, injury-free.  Life happened and I got distracted from running another marathon for a few years, but after that first race, I was set on running another.  I completed my second marathon four years later and by that time had set a goal to run 5 before my 30th birthday, which meant running four more in the course of about a year.  I still had the urge to somehow keep up with some internal, personal and ever-moving goal. I made it through three of the four needed and felt pretty confident I had my training all figured out.  

I decided to hire a personal trainer to help me get faster, and while I didn’t really feel the need to run the Boston Marathon, I thought qualifying would make me feel like a real runner.  Up until this point, I didn’t yet think of myself as a runner.  Imposter Syndrome is a topic for another post…

The trainer put together a plan that included rest days, but I was feeling so good and getting so fast, seeing such great results, that I decided to take things into my own hands.  I was also addicted to the run by this point, so rest days found me feeling a bit itchy and irritable. I started ignoring the rest days and logging more miles. 

My next marathon was in three weeks and I was set to run the fastest marathon I’d ever run, and to blow out of the water, the qualifying time for Boston.  I set out on an 18-mile run just before the taper of my training plan and at mile 17, I couldn’t make myself run another step.  I limped my way home, convincing myself I just needed a few days off and some ice.  I even swallowed my stubborn pride and made myself a doctor’s appointment to confirm my self-diagnosis that nothing was wrong that a little rest couldn’t remedy before race day.

Two partial muscle tears and a stress-fracture were my diagnosis.  There would be no marathon for me.  In fact, the doctor advised against running for the next 12-16 weeks.  I was crushed and crawling out of my skin like an addict without a running fix.

This painful period without running really drove the lesson home. The lessons of the run taught me the importance of rest which has slowly over the years also translated to life.  As I noted, I still struggle with creating space to fill my cup, to do nothing, to rest, but when I do, I see the value and celebrate that I chose to pause instead of running myself into the ground chasing the end of the never-ending to-do list.  Letting my brain rest is as important as letting my body rest, and I’m always energized after the downtime, able to see with fresh eyes, able to adapt, flex and build with new creativity and zest.

Since that painful experience that finally taught me the importance of taking rest days from running, I have completed seven more marathons, including Boston, after finally earning a qualifying time.  I stopped running anything more than two marathons a year.  I took time and dealt with the underlying issues driving me to run, causing the addiction, and began running for fun rather than out of necessity.  And, I finally, once and for all,  learned the value of those rest days my trainer emphasized were so important. The days off from running are as essential to running a successful marathon as the days I run intervals or hills or distance.

Rest is still a work in progress outside of running, but I am dedicated to pursuing the lesson and breaking the habits of too much work and not enough downtime. I know I’m not alone in this struggle to see the value in rest.  What keeps you from learning the lesson?  What keeps you from resting?  What is really behind all the excuses?  What happens when you continuously allow the excuses to win? How might you reframe rest and give rest the importance and value it deserves and thereby finally value yourself enough to rest?

Photo by Angelina Kichukova on Unsplash