I'll admit I am not the foremost authority on rest. I would even imagine many of my friends and family would claim I have no idea what rest even is. I definitely have struggled with the application of the concept in the past, however the past year has taught me some lessons.
I read once that Scott Jurek takes several weeks off of running at the end of his season–some weeks he doesn't run a step. I was amazed. I chalked it up to his seeming superhuman abilities to be able to stop running and not lose fitness. This tactic certainly wasn't for mere mortals like me.
A year ago this weekend I ran the Baker Lake 50k. It was the culmination of a summer of 100+ mile weeks–a combination of running and backpacking. I went out hard and was running in second place (women's race) until somewhere around mile 20. Then my right knee began to hurt. A few miles later, so did my left. I was out of water. I could feel my leg muscles cramping. My electrolytes were out of whack as well. I was in more pain than I have ever been in while running. I caught sight of my friend Joel and for the next 5 miles I focused on not letting him get away from me. When we reached the road, about 1.5 miles from the finish I could no longer keep up. The pavement was too much and I could barely walk. I forced myself onward and was nearly crying as 5 women passed me. I still managed a PR, but it was without joy.
My injury lingered, as my early blog posts demonstrate. Over time I began to wonder...what about rest? Being forced to take 4 months essentially off from running was miserable. This year I feel has been easier, even though I have raced far more...and far further. I think it is because of my taper and recovery periods. Being injured has taught me the value of rest.
Now, I am winding down from 5 weeks of rest at the close of my season. Aside from the Cle Elum 50k, my longest run in that time has been 7 miles. My longest week, 10 total. I have run occasionally, and only when I felt like it. I haven't worried about gaining weight or losing fitness. I've rested my mind and body from the demands of constant training and racing. I allowed myself personal grace–it is ok not to run. It is ok to run. I haven't felt like I'm forcing myself to rest. I simply have allowed my body and mind to dictate when and how far, rather than the schedule I have written on my calendar with a bold, black sharpie.
Will an extended rest at the end of a challenging season make me a better runner?
I don't know.
But, it's worth a try.
I went for a 7 mile run on Tuesday and you know what?
I was excited to run.
My legs were sore initially, but I settled into my rhythm and everything was beautiful. I wanted to run forever. I wanted to run fast, then slow. I wanted to jump over rocks and run across park benches. I wanted to run every hundred mile trail run there was. Joyous. Relaxed. Rested. I was all of those. I am now enjoying the last few days of leisure before I begin to amp my mileage back up. I am eager to run. I can't wait for next weekend's ultra adventure. It's just the beginning of another round...