Motivation. If you’re like us—or probably anyone else anywhere on the planet—when you think of motivation in relation to running, your mind automatically drifts to thoughts of articles with titles like “The Top 10 Ways to Stay Motivated to Get Out the Door Every Day” or inspirational monologues to inspire you to lace ’em up. Hell, Runner’s World online has an entire menu item dedicated to motivation.
But one related topic that is often missed is finding the motivation NOT to run, and instead be motivated to rest and recover.
When you’re a runner, and especially when you’re a competitor, being motivated to take time off is sometimes a bigger dilemma and it’s one many runners struggle with, especially when there are dozens of fantastic trail races to run every season.
Shit, Gina and I live in Boulder, Colorado, where the trails are continuously congested with the super fit focused on getting more fit. All the time. Sigh. It doesn’t always work that way! You can’t continuously just get fitter. Come on people, we all need breaks!
Yes… breaks are good! No one is invincible and can get away with non-stop, intense, year-round training without paying the price of injury. The cost for quality recovery is so minimal in the grand scheme of your overall health and longevity.
A few years back, I worked at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During my time there, I learned that you only lose an approximate seven percent of your endurance/aerobic fitness after 1.5 to two weeks off from all activity. After a third week off, your fitness loss will start to double… and so on and so forth. To prevent any more than about seven percent aerobic loss, most runners will start incorporating some easy jogs and cross training in their third week of down time (if they even take a third week of ‘down’ time).
On the flip side, rest is just as much a part of training as churning out the miles themselves. When we run, we put stress on not only our muscles, joints, and bones, but also our immune system. Too much of that, and we find ourselves going down a rabbit hole of fatigue that may not only cause burnout but also illness, depression, and myriad other problems. Yes, sometimes exercise is just as bad as being a couch potato.
It is amazing that even though most runners are aware of rest benefits, they still push on, breaking down their bodies even more. And why? Ego? Hope for minimal gain? The person who often decides to play practice champion is often the one who least toes the line…
Ah, the ego and its need to perform, to push, to confidently say, Yes, I am an ultrarunner! Look at me run far! It’s hard. Even if you don’t admit it. Running is a major part of our lives, and so, if we’re not careful, we grow to rely on running to become who we are rather than an extension of ourselves and rather than something we love that brings us happiness. We become addicted. We acquire a false sense of self. When this happens—and we don’t like to admit it when it does—the most important thing we must do (which is also the hardest) is to find the motivation to rest.
And actually take the rest. I’m no stranger to overdoing it, and neither is Ashley. In fact, we’ve egged each other to keep working hard when we both knew we needed a break. Talk about ego and competitive nature! A classic example of how friends can enable one another.
Luckily, we woke up. Sometime during the summer, while we were sharing a flat in Chamonix, France, training for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc races (me for the CCC and Ashley for the UTMB), we had a serious heart to heart about our training habits… and our habits in general.
We realized that our training was going backwards and that something was wrong. We were depleted more often than we weren’t, and had no energy for a workout because we ran harder on our easy days than prescribed. A pace supposed to be closer to 10 minutes per mile (effortless) would often end up being more like 7:30s. Talk about digging a hole.
I remember crying out of frustration, out of exhaustion, out of anger. I’d lost what running meant to me. I’d let it tie itself up in a quest for results that left me pushing and pushing and pushing until the whole thing collapsed on me. Running was no longer for me. I took the entire month of October off. Gina took a lot of it off, too.
To say this was difficult is an understatement. More often than I’d like to admit, I found myself lost and confused during my daily life. Without a morning run, the day didn’t even feel right. And so, Gina and I started walking. Our mornings became a routine of drinking coffee together and walking around Wonderland Lake in North Boulder just chatting. Laughing. Venting. Whatever. It was therapeutic. It was exactly what we needed to keep us okay with not running. And slowly, we started to grow mindful. One day at a time…
Like Ash mentioned, we were both a bit toasted after the UTMB races. I ran my goal race for the year, and was still on a high after finishing (yay for endorphins). I couldn’t wait to toe the line again to feel the rush that comes with racing.
Two weeks later, my attitude did a 180. The exhaustion set in, but I still felt like I had to sign up for another event. After a few pathetic workout attempts, I spoke with Emily Harrison (my coach) and she guided me with a plan all about recovery, and reinforced the fact that it was okay to take down time. I really needed to hear this.
Thus, Ash and I kept each other in check when the urge to go pound out some hard miles arose. We were now both mindful of each others’ inner demons taunting us to train, and would come up with ideas to fight off the temptations. One of my favorites is going for a walk that ends up at Upslope Brewery’s North Boulder taproom for an IPA and some Jenga. Or talking about future escapades and toying with logistics on how to make it work… look out Alta Via 1!
If you need motivation to rest, consider calling up a good friend just to go for a stroll, hitting up a new gentle yoga class at your local gym, taking up a new hobby, or spending more time doing the things you don’t get to do when you’re training. If you’re having trouble with finding the motivation to rest, let us know. We just might be able to talk you through it.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Is it hard for you to motivate yourself to rest, to take a break from running when it is needed?
- Do you find yourself comparing yourself to your non-resting friends, competitors, the people on the trail, and/or the people on social media and wondering what you are missing out on?
- How do you surmount the feelings that rest is not enjoyable and/or productive?