It can be hard to convince an athlete to take time off. If you’ve ever approached a runner during her taper before a big race, I’d imagine you’ve learned to do so only with extreme caution. It’s not just the sudden withdrawal of endorphins, but the worry about whether her training has been good enough, whether the time off will result in loss of endurance, and a myriad of other rational and not-so-rational pre-race concerns.
But it’s not just the taper that’s hard. There’s the pull (often exacerbated by watching what others do) to treat every workout as if it’s a race, to forget the importance of the easy workout, and the rest and recovery days.
I’m as susceptible as most to this downfall, but I’ve also learned over the years that I need more recovery time than most. It took a long while, but I eventually learned to listen to my trainer (and now my coach), following their schedule for me which includes hard days, long days, fast days, slow days, recovery days, and days devoted to nothing but rest.
Sometimes embracing rest days is hard. But after a marathon, it’s easy to get caught up in the luxury of days without a training schedule and letting time and fitness get away from me. This is one big reason I can’t envision running a marathon more often than every couple of years (and that I may not run another marathon again).
Athletes also have a funny idea of what it means to be lazy. In the weeks after running Boston Marathon, I took the better part of a week off to celebrate my birthday with friends (but still fit in a slow recovery run around Central Park in NYC). When I got home I started teaching two classes in an intensive three-week summer session. I was in class for almost 6-hours a day, plus class prep, grading, and keeping up with my research and other administrative responsibilities. On top of that I got back to work with my trainer; active recovery at first, but then back to the strength-building that had been on hold for the last couple of months of marathon training. The only running I did was a couple of group runs that were sponsored by local breweries (after all, who can pass up a running event that ends with good local beer?).
I was almost-constantly exhausted, but felt like I was slacking off despite working 12+ hour days and starting back on strength training. I wondered how long it would take to get my motivation back. I have goals (getting a PR in the half-marathon is my big one at present), but didn’t have the urge to put in the work necessary to start making progress toward any of them. For me, this is the danger of a marathon – the training takes so much out of me it sometimes takes months to get myself back in gear.
Fortunately, a couple of Sundays ago, at the end of my summer session – and after getting a much-needed long night of sleep – I woke up ready to go. It was hot, but I was anxious to get out to run. I bought a membership to my neighborhood pool and went for a swim. In the next few days I dusted off my commuter bike and started using it to run errands and to get to and from work. Yesterday, I took my road bike out for my first ride of the season (relieved I’ve not forgotten how to clip in and out of the pedals!) and got in a good run.
I leave Thursday to join friends and teammates for a Ragnar Relay in the beautiful Wasatch Back Mountains of Utah where I get to run through heat, altitude, elevation changes, and lack of sleep. I can’t wait. I have a couple of short running races planned and a late-summer triathlon. I’m still picking out a late-year half-marathon where I hope to beat my best time from two decades ago.
It feels good to be back in action.