The Tyranny of Rest Days

Mr Lydiard, when should I take rest days?
Lydiard: Never.

I’m not running this morning. It’s not because I’m tired; if anything it’s to give my dog Sunny a break. She’s been running with me all week, and the distance I’d like to run today is a bit much for her at this time. I can’t leave the house in the early pre-dawn for a run by myself, otherwise she’ll wake up the whole house by poking them with her nose. Instead, I’ll be running nine-to-twelve miles this afternoon after work. Not too fast, but a little faster than an easy frotz-about trot.

Today will be my thirty-third day of running in a row, averaging over six-and-a-half miles a day. I feel good. I’ve cut down on the speedwork to a very fun fartlek on Wednesdays and a long tempo on Saturdays (when I’m not fun-racing). Not once have I woken up and felt unprepared to run. Every step is welcome, unaccompanied by an “ugh.”

To learn how to run barefoot and enjoy it, you don’t just take off your shoes and PRESTO CHANGO you’re transformed. The education comes from trying to first figure out how to do it without pain (gently! relax! patience! reflection!) and injury. By removing the protection of the shoe, your running choices need to change in order to accomodate that new environment. If you learn to run so gently that the hard ground feels welcoming to the feet, you’re running gently indeed!

What does this have to do with running every day? I wonder if rest days are like shoes. That is, it’s self-destructive to run in a way that requires them. The answer to the question, “what if you ran so gently that you didn’t require shoes?” might be the same as “what if you ran so gently that you didn’t require rest days?”

Of course, life is tough and sometimes there’s no room to fit in a run. That’s not the kind of “rest” day I’m talking about, and my streak might end when we have to travel to and from our future home in the Olympic Mountains this June. Or it might not. The point is, I’m running each day with the mindset that I’m going to run again the next day, and the day after that. Sure, sometimes I will do too much, or give my all in a race, and a rest day will be needed. Or maybe life’s struggles will demand a day off. If I’m sick, yes, absolutely, I’ll take a few days off. Resting due to circumstances is not what I’m talking about, though. It’s the required one-two-three days off every week in 99% of the training plans out there that I suspect might actually be counter-productive. If you need regular days off each week, why?

Just as a shoe allows you to do more than you should, maybe rest days do too. If we know we have a rest day coming up, do we push harder? Run farther? Let me ask the same question from the other direction: if you were forced to run at least a couple of miles every day, would your running habits change? I think they would, and maybe that change would be for the better.

In the end, I think this comes down to how you think about running. If you think of running as punishment, as something you do to deserve that second piece of cake, then running everyday will seem masochistic. If instead running is who you are, it’s what you do, a part of your existence on this speck of dust in the universe, maybe running should be put in the same category as eating, sleeping, smiling, and breathing: something to be done in the right amounts every day.


“You still running without shoes?” called out a neighbor as I ran by. “You sure are tough!”

“Not tough,” I replied, trying to surpress my gasps of exertion up the hill. “Just very gentle.”

I wish I was tough. Tougher, at least.

Between miles five and six of the Umstead Marathon, I was in fifth place when I was left in the dust by the eventual overall female winner (and new course record holder for the ladies). She finished in 3:03:59. If my abilities matched my secret aspirations, I should have been able to hang with her the whole way. I wasn’t even close.

By mile twenty-three, I had slipped to eighth overall. Another runner caught me going up Cedar Ridge, but he was running at a pace I could match. Physically, anyway. Mentally, I quit. A plaque was a plaque, who cares if it says “8th Place Male” instead of “7th Place Male?” Then another runner caught me. Who cares if the plaque says “9th Place Male” instead of “8th Place Male?”

Whatever mojo I had to finish strong in Ridge to Bridge a year and a half before was nowhere to be found. It seems like many runners train to make their bodies capable of performing the ambitious goals of their strong wills. I train to make my body able to compensate for my lack of will. Sure, there were other obstacles that impeded my efforts, and maybe I’ll write about what I think those were at some point if I think anyone is interested, but the brain is the big one.

The silver lining to this cloud of self-pity is that I’m feeling pretty much recovered from Umstead, so I think I will be able to give a strong effort at the Martinsville Half in a little over a week from now. I haven’t PRd in anything since the beginning of June last year (5K on the Runway, 17:38), and I think I might be able to shave a few seconds off of my fastest half (Mistletoe Half 2011, 1:25:52). That would certainly be a nice way to kick off training for the next marathon, which will be the North Olympic Discovery Marathon in June.

My training plan for NODM will pick up where I left off, with a few adjustments. I will have two goals for that trip out to Port Angeles, WA. Only one of them has to do with the race:

1. New PR. The course is flat. 2:55:00.
2. Find a place to live.

No, we haven’t sold our house. Not yet, and of course we’re hoping we will before the trip. Even if we don’t, so long as our finances accomodate, we’re going to try to sell an empty house from far away. It’s time for us to move, and I’d kind of like to miss another summer of getting eaten by NC bugs. So after the race, we’re going to spend a week looking for a dog-friendly house to rent in Port Angeles. Then we’ll come back, pack a few things (very, very few things), and move on out.

Back to the NODM, it looks like this race will most likely be run with the Vapors. There are long stretches of chip seal and this stuff:

When I ran on this stuff barefoot, Iris was telling me to hurry up.

When I ran on this stuff barefoot, Iris was telling me to hurry up.

Someday, maybe. Maybe I’ll be able to more happily handle that stuff without shoes. Hopefully, we’ll be living there soon.

I’m a Hermit in the Wilderness

Just like the protagonist in Once A Runner when he was training for that race. Except for the hermit part. And the wilderness. But I feel like I’m that guy. I wake up, I run. I come home from work, I run. Mostly slow, sometimes fast. I managing the trials of miles much better than I thought I would. I picked the Higdon plan in part because if I couldn’t handle the miles I beefed it up with, I could stick with what he prescribes. That’s usually what happens. I get very ambitious about heavy-mileage training, then for one reason or another it never worked out that way. This time I’ve gotten more of a taste of the old-school Lydiardish type of training, running almost 350 miles so far this year (a nine-mile/day average). It has been exhausting and requires a lot of focus, but I’m feeling very strong.

At the Umstead Marathon, I’ll be going for broke. I plan on running hard the entire way, attacking the hills. I’ve trained too hard to run it conservatively. I’ll wear the watch, but I won’t let it dictate my pace. I’m not going to predict a time, but I’ll say this: I feel like I could run a seven-minute mile forever.

Unfortunately all this training discipline has come at the price of the blogging, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t ruined anyone’s day. I’ve had notions of posts, but no gumption to write them down. DailyMile and Facebook has sapped much of my exhibitionist need to share, draining my little brain bubbles in brief squirts. Wow, that was kind of gross. That said, there are some bubble squirts in the chute (ew). I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming reviews of the Merrell Road Glove 2 and the Vapor Gloves. Merrell was also kind enough to send me some truly awesome jackets that are part of their Barefoot Connect line. What do jackets have to do with being barefoot, you ask? I don’t know, but then I don’t see the shoe connection, either. Oh wait, I see what you did there, Merrell. Well played! As for the reviews, I doubt you’ll find them useful in any way. I’ll try to make up for that fact with humor and cute dog pictures.

That’s it, that’s my post. Tomorrow I’ve got ten miles at race pace effort, then twenty miles on Sunday. Then the taper begins. Maybe if you’re lucky, there will be lots of updates detailing my anxiety and doubt. Fun!