Give It a Rest

People are attracted to running for various reasons: they want to lose weight, they want to live healthier lives, it’s cheaper than a gym membership, you don’t need a lot of gear, they enjoyed running when they were kids, or they want to run a marathon before they reach a certain age. People who continue running, past the 5K’s, 10K’s, and half marathons, those who run longer distances and think nothing of going out for a Saturday 20 miler, are a particular breed of crazy.

Those are my people.

We have no problem pushing ourselves to run longer and longer distances, and then test our training in a race. We’re goal oriented and enjoy making plans. It’s our days off, when we should be giving our legs a rest, that we struggle with.

Today is a rest day. I have two scheduled each week, Mondays and Fridays. After giving everything I’ve got on the five days I run each week, I always look forward to the rest days.

It’s the unscheduled rest days that I struggle with the most. I suspect that’s true for most runners.

I run with a group of very experienced, serious runners. They train hard and race to PR. Many of them win races and place in their age groups. Every single one of them could write a book about how to train for a marathon and what not to do to get to the start line uninjured and ready for your best performance.

That doesn’t mean we follow our own advice.

DRC Half 2012

Last Saturday at breakfast after our long run, my friend Kurt made the statement that runners are bad about doing two things: not resting enough and racing too often.

I actually think I’m pretty good on both fronts — but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it. I’m one of those strange birds who likes training more than racing. There is nothing like having a great race, where everything comes together — weather, training, nutrition, energy, course, mind — and you feel great from start to finish and pull off a PR. But I’ve had some pretty lousy races, too, and I struggle with getting past all the uncontrollable variables and still enjoying the race.

I’m in awe of people who race every weekend. I just don’t feel that urge. I like having two or three goal races per year and building up to and looking forward to that day. I like longer distances, and they take longer to train for. And I’m certainly not winning any races these days, so I don’t have the incentive of being first across the line each weekend to spur me on. The older I get, the less I care about speed and more about endurance and strength.

I used to love getting medals, but now they just sit on the wall in the back bedroom, pretty much forgotten and not all that important anymore. It’s rare to get a race t-shirt that’s made for a woman, so that’s never been a big draw. Now I’m all about the experience itself being the reward.

DRC Half 2012

As for rest, I think I’m pretty good about listening to my body and taking a day off when I need to — even though I hate missing a run on the training plan. And I rarely take a complete rest day. I usually do yoga, which seems to give my legs the rest they need but also works out some of the kinks from the week’s training and loosens them up for the weekend long runs.

However, I was surprised at how frustrated I felt when I ran my first 50K a few weeks ago and had to take more rest days than any of my other friends who ran it. This is where age comes to play. It just seems to take me longer to recover these days. When yoga doesn’t help, I know it’s time to back off and give myself a complete rest day.

Post-race, except for the quads, I felt great. I was still floating on my happy cloud of accomplishment a week afterwards, and I wanted to run, dammit! My quads had other ideas, though, and every time I ran more than a few miles they tightened up and let me know I needed to be smart.  A week later they finally felt good enough for a trail run, only I never seemed to warm up and felt fatigued and grumpy the entire run. This was another signal I needed to listen to: recovery takes time, and the body knows better than the mind.

So I backed off and lowered my mileage, and within a week I was back to normal. Lesson: rest is good, and recovery takes time.

DRC Half 2012

We’ve all known people who didn’t give themselves enough time to recover and wound up battling one injury after another. We’ve probably done it ourselves. When you truly love running, and have your next race planned before you cross the finish line, it’s hard to not keep pushing yourself.

Just don’t forget to sometimes give it a rest.



  1. iRuniBreathe

    Sometimes I think recovery needs to be worked into the training plan! It’s too bad we can’t plan for it in advance. So, we need to be flexible with the training and really rest when it’s needed. I find that knowing I am working hard on my hard days helps my mind a little bit with the rest days. It’s easier to take the whole day off knowing that I’m tired from a hard workout and that the next time I run it will be a full-on effort in some way.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      That is so true. Monday’s are usually very easy to take a complete rest day after Saturday/Sunday’s back to back long run/trail run. Fridays are easier when I remember I have those two hard runs ahead of me and I’ll need fresh legs to make it through without getting hurt. And I do think the recovery days are already built into the training plans — the rest days — but we choose to ignore them!

  2. Rao Dentistry

    I know the post is about rest days, but what caught my attention is the breed of “crazy” you mentioned, about those who care more about running longer and the endurance rather than speed. That is so me 🙂 The medals are great and all, but the training runs every week are what I look forward to and love how running has become an integral part of my life. ~ Ritu

    PS: And another thing, you are so right about the training shirts! People make such a big deal about them but they always land at the bottom of my running clothes pile.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Ritu, we’re a crazy tribe of runners, aren’t we? I loved getting the medals at first, then I slowly realized they did nothing but hang on the wall and I never even looked at them again.

      As for the shirts, I think it’s time for a switch. How about race directors start handing out women’s shirts and let the men throw them at the bottom of their running clothes piles! After every race, if there’s a survey, I always suggest they offer women’s shirts. We are, after all, usually 50% of the runners in a race, sometimes more.

      • Rao Dentistry

        I agree!! What’s up with ‘Unisex’ shirts??? They are nothing but an excuse to hand out men’s shirts but without the label saying it’s “men’s”. Useless! (as you can see, I have issues with race shirts!!)

  3. AndrewGills

    I’m bad with rest too. My forced rest is starting to drive me crazy. All I want to do is run! And run long! I was so excited about starting again now that it’s November and then my SIJ played up. It’s still really sore so I think it’s going to take at least another week before I can start cycling again and I aren’t aiming to run again until December.

    That said … December is getting closer … it’ll be here before I know it. And then I’m going to properly build up a solid base so I too can go out and run 20-milers at the weekend 😀

  4. MikeW

    I can see your fellow Ultras and yourself spacing out in some zone you get into beyond 20 miles, with the sound of an old juke box playing Patsy Kline’s “Crazy.” Hope that image brings a smile in your next race. For me, it would make me want to finish sooner so I could go to a BBQ joint and listen to the juke.

      • MikeW

        I remember Tecate or Corona with lime in the hill country, BBQ & green onion stalks, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, clay chaparral, 85% humidity, and junipers jacking plumes of red pollen into the sky.

      • MikeW

        Trail runners running on caliche clay soil after 50 yards, looking like Elton John and moving like Mick Jagger, falling into fellow runners’ arms like the lead singer for the Hot Chili Peppers falls into an audience. Classic.

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