Running on empty
As those of you who have been following NTS for a while hopefully know, I’ve spent the last several months in training for a race to support Girls on the Run, my absolute favorite organization to date. In case you’re not yet part of the cool club, check out my post on the GOTR organization or my guest post on Healthy Tipping Point to learn more about why you should become involved with helping girls succeed too.
I actually had the wonderful fortune to have lunch with two of the staff of the Cincinnati chapter of Girls on the Run recently. Erin and Mary were absolutely fabulous and shared with us (yes, I dragged Justin along – and he earned a new name – Husband on the Run!) about the mission and day-to-day operation of this organization. Did you know that every single girl that participates in this chapter gets a brand new pair of New Balance shoes, so that no girl is without proper footwear and no girl has to be singled out? Can you imagine?! The enormity of this part of the program (which is only a tiny part, mind you) made me literally tear up. GOTR is what dreams are made of…
But back to training.
Despite my newfound passion for GOTR, my training has not been all sunshine and cherry pies. It’s been tough, rough work. Which I suppose is what training for something is all about – pushing yourself harder and further than you thought you could. I’ve seen progress in my running that is still incredible to me, thanks to the support of a good friend (i.e. coach), a commitment to a good cause, and maybe a dash of my own perfectionism.
I’ve also seen progress because I’ve taken rest seriously and I haven’t pushed myself farther than I should go.
According to Jack Raglin of Indiana University’s department of kinesiology (that’s the science of human movement, says Wikipedia), approximately 10% of endurance athletes train too hard. Others estimate this number to be much higher, citing that most athletes are actually over-trained and chronically injured. The obvious risk is injury and becoming sidelined (potentially permanently) from the entire event. A recent Wall Street Journal article cited that 25% of people who sign up for marathons don’t make it to the start line. (I’m doubting their cars ALL broke down.) Having once been forced to give up marathon dreams due to pushing myself too hard, too fast, I’m a firm believer in the power of rest.
Animals like my cat have absolutely no problem with this idea. So why do we?
While you may think that pushing yourself to new heights requires daily grueling work-outs, quite the opposite is true. The body needs (and longs for) rest days in order to repair and strengthen muscles and replenish your energy stores. In fact, the recovery period is when the real effects of the training occur (a bit counterintuitive, I realize…).
Overtraining is a serious liability. Besides the risk of muscle and joint damage, training too hard can cause exhaustion, an eating disorder, depression, and decreased performance. And who in the world, after months of giving it your all, wants to wind up tired, sad, and in a brace? Not this girl.
Experts (like Lyle McDonald at Bodyrecomposition) recommend that those who are exercising intensely get both active rest and passive rest. Active rest refers to doing something physical or training related, but usually for a shorter period and at less intensity. This is all based on what you typically do, but if you’re a runner, you might actively rest by doing a short jog at pace significantly slower than you would on a training day. Or cross-train to give the muscles you’re normally using a break.
Passive rest is just like it sounds. Plant your butt on the couch and read a book. Or watch t.v. Or read Nourishing the Soul. Just don’t do jumping jacks or cycle fifty miles. Your body needs at least one day completely off per week. Having training-free days is vital to ensuring your muscles stay strong and you don’t get a divorce. Plus, when else are you going to catch up on Project Runway?
Another form of rest that some experts recommend is taking a more extended rest once in a while. Does the thought of taking a week completely off make you cringe? Probably all the more reason you should. If you worry that there’s no way you could meet your goals by taking extended time off, consider Deana Kastor, the Chicago and London marathon champ. She takes two months off from running a year. This isn’t to say she sits around eating Oreos during the breaks, but she stops running. Studies indicate that taking a week off does not result in significant losses of aerobic fitness or strength.
It’s all about… wait for it… listening to your body. Seriously, people. How often do I have to say this!? It’s amazing how the human body really has all the answers. If your body is craving rest or more sleep, respect your own wisdom and comply.
Have you over over-trained and gotten injured? How adept are you at listening to your body’s signals for rest?