Run hard, rest harder

  • This was printed in July of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 60th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I spend my free time, which amounts to about 10 hours per week (only slightly kidding),

running, writing about running, or reading about running.

I find quite often that I receive a particular message — whether it’s nestled in my

Instagram feed, posted by a Facebook friend, or heard in church — right when I need it

the most.

The lesson that the universe is trying to drill into my head at the moment is just one word:


I swear that every time I pick up a magazine lately (Runner’s World, Running Times,

Self, Parenting, etc.) I am greeted with an article about resting. In fact “Give It A Rest” in

Running Times’ March issue (yes, I’m a little behind in my reading) is probably the most

important thing I’ve read this year.

The elite American long distance runners of Nike’s Oregon Project get 10 to 12 hours of

sleep each night and take an hour nap most days, according to the article.

My first thought: They apparently don’t have children. My second thought: I think I’d

have to be in a coma to sleep that long. After six hours of Zs my eyes pop open and I’m

ready to start my day, even on “rest” days. On run days, I’m lucky to get five hours.

That’s my new excuse for being slower than I want to be: I’m only getting half the

amount of sleep that elite runners are getting.

The article explains that runners need to log enough time in the third and fourth stages of

the sleep cycle, when the human growth hormone is released, to build and repair tissues.

Without enough sleep, the body overdoses on the stress hormone cortisol, in turn

interfering with tissue repair.

All of the articles I’ve read seem to come to two conclusions. 1) Without rest, the body

cannot reach optimum performance. 2) The best form of rest is sleep.

Until I figure out how to stop time so that I can log some extra hours of oh-so-precious

slumber, I’ll have to do the next best thing and try to rest and recover in other ways.

Thankfully, myriad articles offer suggestions. According to scientists, massage is not an

indulgence, it’s helpful in recovery. So is compression. Massage would probably take too

much time out of my day (and money out of my wallet) but pulling on some compression

socks after a run takes just seconds.

Rolling muscles over a foam tube and stretching also helps muscles recover faster. I can

fit in ten minutes of each daily; I’ve perfected the arts of foam rolling while reading, and

stretching while teaching my children math and phonics.

Alternating the temperature of the water during a shower can ease muscle soreness,

according to a recent Self article, plus it is less painful than sitting in a bath filled with

ice. Switching between 50- and 100-degree water every two minutes during my post-run

shower will take mere seconds and boost my recovery.

Complete rest days are important — so important, in fact, that they should be scheduled

into your calendar along with workouts and doctor appointments — says the Self article,

“How To Train Like An Athlete.”

Resting at least every three to four days prevents muscle fatigue and allows a runner to

perform at their best during workouts and races. I’ve seen a few people, particularly

women, who run every single day and never seem to get faster. (Of course I’ve also seen

exceptions to this rule.)

Famed distance runner and Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar is reported to

have said that recovery takes confidence; not running while the competition continues to

train isn’t easy for many runners.

I’m one of them.

However, faced with overwhelming evidence that resting more will make me a better

runner, I’m prepared to hang up my running shoes — at least for a few days — to prepare

for ultramarathon training.


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