First off, let me start. No. I am not injured. Okay, do we all feel better now?
I feel like I've told a few people recently that I haven't ran in two weeks and that is their first (although very concerned) response. Let me let you in on a little secret. I haven't ran a step since Banff. I haven't, one single time, laced up my running shoes since stepping foot back into Texas. (Okay, not entirely true. I did lace up for Global Sports Bra Squad Day, which was an entirely worthwhile cause and I'm proud to have done so.)
Here's the reason why: I didn't want to. You didn't WANT to?!?!* BUT WHY!?!* You're a runner! That's your thing! That's what you DO!
Well, yes. I do run. I do enjoy it. Most of the time. And, in that, lies the issue. I don't feel like I'm defined by running. (Although, after a recent Facebook post, it would seem that the majority of my friends think of me as a crazy cat lady who is obsessed with fitness. But that's a story for another day.) I feel as though I'm an athlete and running has always been my niche. I love running, don't get me wrong. But sometimes, don't you ever, just a little - for a tiny second - think, "Eh, I think I need a break?"
After Banff, and maybe leading up into the Banff marathon/half, I felt as though I was forcing it. I had had a good training block, which for me is rare. But, I had also been racing a ton, again, for me, rare. I was enjoying it, but as the weather got hotter and the runs got harder, I felt as though I was sloughing through the runs for the sake of running. For the sake of saying that I hit my weekly mileage goal or my workout pace. I kept telling myself if I got through the marathon, I could enjoy the training again. But somewhere in there, I lost a bit of my drive, a little bit of my "umph."
My body was worn down, my leg was still bruised from manual therapy, and I didn't feel good about what I was doing. I didn't have a great race in Banff (race report here), I had to scale to running the half, but it's all part of the same cycle. Your body knows better than your head when you need a break.
I would say immediately to any one of my runners in my half marathon program, that you have to love what you do. You have to be enjoying what you're doing. This isn't to say that there doesn't come a point of training where you don't enjoy the mundane. You won't always enjoy every 20-miler. You won't always enjoy (or ever) the sound of your alarm chirping to wake you up at 4:30am. You won't always feel great on your runs. You will get to a point in your training where you question your sanity and start counting the days until the race. This isn't what I'm talking about today. This is true training. This isn't the glorified Runner's World cover of smiling models slurping down seemingly amazing tasting gels*. This is real life and real training. This is the distasteful training work that you put in that shines as magic on race day.
But what I want you to think about, when you're lacing up your shoelaces for an easy run, is this: "Am I having fun?" That's the key difference. The alarms, the bad runs, the workouts, that's all background fuzz and noise in the bigger picture. If you can wake up and say, "I want to do this and running makes me happy," GET OUT THERE! Lace up those shoes, gain some endorphins. Because, as Elle Woods would say, ""Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't kill their husbands. They just don't." Fact.
But the body is key in this understanding. Again, this is another conversation that I've had frequently between my athletes and friends alike. Your body will tell you when it needs a break. Not everyone listens. I'm a key example of this. In the past, I've ran myself into the ground, ignored the warning signs, and tried to push through in an attempt to meet all of the goals we've listed above. But what has it gotten me? Usually a DNF at a race, if I make it to the start line.
If you need to take a day off, do it. Fitness isn't gained in a day and it surely isn't lost in a day, either. In fact, some of the greatest training that you can do is knowing when to take a break. It doesn't matter if it's Crossfit, Olympic Weightlifting, or running - your muscle fibers need a rest and cannot rebuild when under constant stress. It's not always easy. It's hard to feel satisfied from a rest day in the same way that breaking a sweat in the gym does. But it's a necessary part of any training cycle. And sometimes, when I'm talking about mental toughness, I don't always mean in a race. Sometimes, it takes more mental strength to let off the gas pedal than to know when to press harder.
What I'm trying to do is change your thinking a little bit.
Yesterday, I was sitting by the pool, finishing some of my Continuing Education classes, and I was listening to an incredibly interesting webinar on mindfulness. And truly, this blog bubbled up in my consciousness as I was listening. How often in the day do you step back and quiet your brain? How often do you stop yourself from multitasking and just simply be present in the moment. Is your cell phone glued to your hand? (I know mine is - something I plan to work on in the coming months)
But mindfulness also stems from having a deeper connection with your body. It's about checking in with your body and understanding how everything is feeling. Think of it like a quick body assessment - mentally walk through your body - how do your feet feel, your legs, your hips, your back? Does everything hurt? Is it sore? That's fine. Is it painful? Not so good.
But most importantly - and if you listen to nothing else in this blog - give yourself permission to take a break. Give yourself permission to step away. Make the decision that is right for you. I feel as though so many of us feel some innate push to accomplish as much as possible. Go, Dog, Go. Run, Dog, Run. That, somehow, by giving in to the idea of taking a rest day (or rest week), you're somehow less of an athlete, somehow less likely to achieve your goals. That isn't true! Have that discussion with your coach! No matter how in tune with my athletes I think that I am, I don't know what's going on if they don't tell me.
Because here's the thing. Life's too short to not enjoy what you do. But do it because you WANT to. Do it because it brings you happiness. Do it because you just felt like running.
This break was exactly what I needed. I needed to step away from running and from training and get back in touch with what I loved in the first place. I had told myself that I wouldn't take another step in my shoes until I wanted to. I didn't want to be guilted into it; I didn't want to be bribed. I want to voluntarily pick up my running shoes and say, for no particular reason, "Today is a good day for a run."
Here is a great link for more tips on mindfulness.
*gratuitous, excessive, and redundant punctuation (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!)