Endurance athletes are weird.
We hate to rest when we know we need to. Our family thinks we’re a little crazy for running so much. Our friends have zero desire to run a marathon. But we crave the feel good hormones we get from our daily run like an addict craves the next high.
Right now I’m reading Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run by Matt Fitzgerald, an account of the 1989 Ironman Triathlon and the two athletes who made it one of the most exciting endurance competitions of all time.
As the author describes the training and day to day lives of Dave and Mark, the element of suffering struck me as a common theme. Fitzgerald even points it out, citing the entire group of triathletes at that time as a pain community.
These were guys who ran 20 miles, biked 100 miles, and swam for 2 hours….every Saturday. They never took a single day off. Rest was an alien concept and high-intensity was a daily theme. Fitzgerald explains the feeling of a hard race:
The athletes entire conscious experience of reality boils down to a desire to continue pitted against a desire to quit. Nothing else remains. The athlete is no longer a student or a teacher or a salesman. He is no longer a son or a father or a husband. He has no social roles or human connections whatsoever. He is utterly alone. He no longer has any possessions. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow, only now. The agony of extreme endurance fatigue crowds out every thought and feeling except one: the goal of reaching the finish line.
The intensity of triathlon racing is very similar to running. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you’re familiar with the feeling.
Many runners follow the same pattern of extreme exercise and hold the belief that if you take a few days off (or OMFG, a week!), you’ll lose all your fitness and start packing on the pounds.
When I was a freshman in college, my friend Adam was our cross country captain (I interviewed him here) and a complete machine: 100 mile weeks, our top runner, a New England 10k champion, and someone who had never been hurt (see the power of consistency?).
At the beginning of practice one day our coach gets us together with a somber look on his face and announces that Adam is taking the day off from running because his shin is hurting him. It was as if he was announcing Adam had shattered every bone in his leg.
Of course, Adam was our top runner and a potential All-American (which he earned the following year), so it was natural that this was a big deal. He took a day off and his shin started cooperating, so he was back to heavy training. What would have happened if he didn’t take time off?
Resting is not sacrilege for an endurance athlete. Sometimes it’s necessary for you to continue your improvement in the long-term.
Taking Extended Recovery Time
If you follow my training on dailymile or Twitter, you might have noticed my lack of training in December and June of last year. Yes, I was slacking off a lot. With some travel and having a lot of fun, running wasn’t as important to me during those times. It might be weird to tell you this, but running shouldn’t be your #1 priority all the time.
I tell the runners that I coach that, “Life often gets in the way, so rearrange your running and if you need to, take a day off.” This was definitely the case in June as I went to my sister’s college graduation, the beach for Memorial Day, had my college reunion, and my bachelor party. Oh, and a ton of wedding planning.
Who has time for running with all those events?
Four weeks in a row I took two days off every weekend to have fun and not worry about training. This sounds like sacrilege, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do – both physically and mentally.
What you do most days is more important than what you do once in awhile.
It’s okay to abandon a run and go to happy hour. You won’t lose any fitness if you skip a training session to enjoy the beach. If you’re hungover and would rather eat a big brunch, then don’t run! Having more time with family trumps heading out for a 10 miler in 90 degree temperatures.
As long as these are very occasional situations, your training will pick up and you can continue to run where you left off. I work very hard to race fast and be in good shape, but taking those days off were absolutely worth it.
Enjoy your time off to spend time with family, celebrate a holiday, party with friends, recover from a marathon, or enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime moment like a bachelor(ette) party. These special moments will end and you can get back to your training guilt-free. I’m not militant about running and I don’t think you should be either.
Want to Ignore Me? Here’s How
“Whatever Jason, I’m going to try to run anyways but just cut it short.”
I hear you – sometimes this is a good strategy if you have some time to train, but not your usual amount.
If you’re a member of my private email list, read my How to Stay Fit on Vacation ebook that’s in the Runner’s Gear Bag. It details out how you can stay fit over 1-2 weeks while drastically reducing your training load.
But here are a few quick tips:
- If possible, keep the frequency of your runs the same. Just cut the length of each one by as much as you need to.
- Keep up with your warm-ups and strength exercises – just reduce the volume of each.
- Skip your longer, fast workouts – but do some fast running like strides or a mini-workout.
- Skip your long run if you don’t have time but try to one medium-long run.
You can cut your workout time to about half with this advice – and stay in roughly the same shape for 1-2 weeks. With weddings, holidays, vacations, or simply burn-out from hard training, there are a lot of reasons to take a mental hiatus from running.
This is a friendly reminder that life exists outside of running.