Mr Lydiard, when should I take rest days?
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.