Rest! (Why it’s even more important than you thought.)

I’ve just returned from several weeks of travel — not all vacation by a long shot, but there was a break at the end to celebrate Thanksgiving with family in the US. I was surprised to feel how refreshed I was when I returned home and got back to my usual schedule of clients, classes, and family business. I was even more surprised to notice that things I’d been struggling to get on top of — logistics that were tricky to figure out about my work, being properly able to anticipate things — suddenly started taking care of themselves without any apparent effort on my part, even though I hadn’t even thought about them for three weeks.

This is the cognitive value of rest. Rest doesn’t mean curling up in bed, though a certain amount of that is nice. It can just mean a break, a change of activity. We do a certain kind of very important work when we take a break from struggle; in fact, it’s the crucial step in any learning process.

Runners are famous for not taking rest seriously enough, not letting their bodies recover between workouts. As the saying goes, it’s not the workout that makes you stronger, it’s the rebuilding process that takes place when you rest after your workout that makes you stronger!

But this other aspect to rest, the things that happen in your brain when you shift your focus, are also important to us and it’s important to remember them too, especially when you’re trying to learn better running form. There comes a point in any learning process where focusing on something stops getting you improvements and starts making things worse. When you reach this point, you’ve gone on too long without a rest. Your brain digests in rests, connects the things you’ve been focusing on to other things you know and filters out the noise. Without that step, there is no possibility of mastery.

As a runner and a person, you need to build rests of all kinds into your life. It’s not laziness, it’s a requirement of excellence and also of satisfaction and happiness.  In your running, this means resting between workouts to allow you to recover (including but not limited to adequate sleep), resting from repetitious demands by giving your body variety (terrain, speed, duration, footwear, cross-training, play), resting from repetitious habits of attention by varying what you pay attention to, and even resting from trying to accomplish anything at all.

5 thoughts on “Rest! (Why it’s even more important than you thought.)”

  1. This is so timely for me as I have been struggling with an injury (a calf strain) and need to rest. What has been hard is to go slow and to listen to my body. To be conservative is aggravating when i just want to go for a good long run. Sometimes when I am tired I think a good run will help me but quite the opposite is true. Rest when you are tired is the maxim.

    • Yes, exactly: rest when you are tired. You’ll know best by listening to your body when that’s the case. Don’t forget, though, that when you’re dealing with injury, particularly a strain that may well be caused by biomechanical issues, that you also need to address those or the problem may well come back even after you’ve rested enough to feel recovered. Make sure you’re moving your torso properly — a stiff trunk really stresses the calves!

      Good luck, and good for you for taking care of yourself.

      • I made a deal with myself to run every other day after beating 4 months unable to run at all following COVID. I do find there are times however where I feel worn down and in need for change. So I take an extra day and do some different. Just some slow walks or some extra yard work. If I do t take that extra day or two every now and then I lose enjoyment and run without the energy that comes within.

  2. I just turned 70, won the NYC Marathon lotto, and am now in training in Houston’s pre-sunrise 80-degree temps and 90-98% humidity. Last year I had tibialis posterior tendinopathy and I want to avoid that this year. OK, I am getting to the “rest” part of my training, which may be helpful to someone. I absolutely love Hanson’s Marathon Method, but it is on a seven day or weekly cycle which I think contributed to my injury; just not enough rest. So after reading Meb’s book, I took his advice and am now on a nine-day cycle, still using Hanson’s recommendations for long, intervals for speed & strength, and tempo runs. However, now I insert two recovery days after each hard workout: 1: long run, 2-3: recovery runs; 4: Intervals; 5-6: Recovery runs; 7: Tempo run; 8-9: recovery runs. Sometimes, I substitute biking, slideboarding, or just take a rest day for the recovery run — depends how I feel.

    From the 80/20 Running book by Fitzgerald I found even professionals do 80% training at their slow pace. I found that the recovery runs should be done at low heart rates: my Zone 1 tops out at 124 bpm and Zone 2 tops at 136 bpm. I do most of my recovery runs in Zone 1; and I am getting paces to 10:47/mile just after 4-weeks back into training and I am also at 40+ miles per week. At first it is difficult to go slow, but it can be done. I like slow for two reasons:

    1) JoggerJo on Strava is the current world-record marathon holder in the 70-74 age class, and his slow run yesterday was 5.74 miles at 12:34/mile (so if he can do that so can I! I can’t meet his fast work outs and he says his key to his record are the slow runs which helps give him 80+ miles per week without injury!).
    2) In my slow runs I like to exaggerate the movements learned in the Balanced Runner and see how it affects my running. In particular, arm and upper body twist, forward lean, hip movement for stronger foot contact and leg movement behind me, as well as foot strike; in particular shifting weight over my foot contacting the ground, which alleviates my over-pronation with my left foot which was partly to blame for my tendinopathy last year. I am still learning.

    Hopefully, this will be useful to someone besides me and I welcome any feedback.


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