17 Sep Why I Needed the Rest
Some of you know me as a runner. I started running in September 2012 and within 13 months, I had clocked three 10k’s, three half marathons, and one full marathon. I set those goals, ticked them off one by one, and I am so proud of what I achieved last year. Then, after a much-needed rest, I came back stronger in January 2014, aiming for a PB in my fourth half marathon in March 2014, and smashing my previous time by 13 minutes, to hit a sub-2 hour half. I was amazed at myself. Properly amazed. I never imagined I would maintain 9 minute miles over that distance, but with my concentration set, I pushed through and felt like a damn rockstar.
But then things took a turn. That determination wasn’t quite as strong. I did a 10k in April, and cried through most of it, walking, and hating on myself. This summer was filled with false starts, a decent 5 miler that built up my confidence, followed by a crappy 1 miler that shattered my ego, and my self-appointed identity as a runner. I was no runner, I kept thinking to myself. Finally, at the end of July, with that post-holiday vigour, I decided I needed to go big or go home, and so signed up for the Dublin Half, honing a training schedule similar to the one I made myself in January. All I needed was the dedication and discipline I had come to know of myself from the previous year, and setting a goal for September 19th was a sure-fire way to get there. Training went great for 4 weeks, milage was increasing, race pace was 20 seconds faster per mile, and I had one of those glorious 10 milers in Phoenix Park that convinces you the heavens are conspiring for the betterment of your soul and you are on fire and life is pretty damn good. Negative splits for each mile. Personal bests for the final 2 miles. Solid form for the whole 90 minutes. For crying out loud, I was a runner, and I was back with a bang!
But then bang went my energy. For a few days after, I thought I needed a little extra recovery, and for another few days I thought I needed a little less intensity in the training runs. Then the next few days I thought I needed a little bit of a lie-in as my sleep wasn’t great the night before. Then the next few days I thought I needed a few days of total rest. Spiralling down and down and down, until last week, I couldn’t face getting up in the mornings for my run. Burned out, and frazzled, I looked at my race bib when it arrived in the post last Monday, and felt so defeated. For the first time in two years, I decided to pull out of a race.
These last 6 months have been super busy, as you all know. But there is no hope in hell you can lie to your body about how you’re feeling when you’re pushing it from 5.50am to 11pm, day after day. And for what, exactly? For whom, exactly? I was mentally and physically exhausted, and something had to give.
From talking with friends at the gym, and fellow runners on-line, it’s clear that taking rest days is something that a lot of us struggle with, never mind rest weeks. Mental stress is just as potent as physical stress, and when your brain is engaged all day and all night with work and college and family, it’s hard to find the motivation to get out the door and run. Initially, it might seem like a nice distraction or de-stresser. But when you’re running 8 or 9 miles before work, you’re causing added physical stress, that under these heightened circumstances the body just isn’t capable of maintaining. When you’re sobbing through your workouts, it’s time to step back and re-assess.
Athletes are notoriously compromised in immunity. Research over the last couple of decades has shown that moderate exercise improves immune function, but that sustained and intense exertion, such as marathon training, has the opposite effect. Intense exercise often reduces white blood cells (lymphocytes, neutrophils, basophils etc) and the body’s immunological capacities, particularly within the 3-72 hour window post-training session. The body will take longer to recover, and susceptibility to colds and flu, sinusitis, and respiratory tract infections increases. As an experiment, I got my bloods analysed, and my lymphocytes are low. Not refer-to-heamatology-low (which happened 3 years ago due to iron deficiency anaemia, and B12 deficiency), but monitor-closely-low. I haven’t gotten sick yet, and believe me I get coughed on an inordinate amount of times in my job, but my immunity has been compromised, and I would do well from pulling back on training.
I took all of last week off from running and working out, and these last 3 days I’ve done 2-3 mile runs, with 15 minutes of kettle bells. Moderate intensity for 45 minutes before work, a good bit of sweat, but not too physically demanding. I’m not really sure what my next step is. I think I’ll take another few weeks of aimlessly working out (working out for the fun of working out? surely not!) and then see where I am in October. I told a couple of friends that September has been all about rest and looking after myself. It wasn’t planned like that. But the body gets what the body needs.
If you listen to it, that is. It’s very adept at guiding you if you listen to it.
If you don’t listen to it, it will scream at you until you have no choice but to.
Either way, it gets what it needs.