Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rest, Recovery, and Easy Days: It's More Than Just Physical

Recently I have come to a whole new appreciation for rest and recovery days. I am on day 85 of a running streak that I started a while back to help add some consistency to my training. When doing a streak, one learns to really appreciate the rest and recovery days in a whole new way. To keep the streak from becoming too much like a chore, the easy days are critically important, not just from a physical standpoint but from a mental one as well.

Let's face it. Most runners, if not Type-A personalities, are at the very least extremely goal-oriented. Once one starts running regularly, and especially when one sets a specific time or pace goal, such as running that first 5k, half marathon, or marathon or setting a PR at any of those distances, running becomes about the training plan. It becomes bogged down in miles per day, miles per week, and paces. In the midst of all this, it is quite easy to lose the joy of the activity.

Easy days and recovery days often become just another set of miles to be ticked off on the schedule. Often they are run at a pace faster than they should be because there is a desire to just get them over with. Sometimes they are dismissed out of hand and replaced with cross training. To do so, though, is to miss the wonderful opportunity that these days represent.

In one of my favorite books by Thomas Moore called the The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Moore argues that in modern society we have become so analytical and scientific in our society that we miss the magical and the awe-inspiring in our daily lives and that this point-of-view does nothing to nourish our souls. He advocates opening the mind to the enchanting and awe-inspiring in daily life by paying more close attention to the magical in the things around us.

This message can apply to our running. Recovery days and easy days are an opportunity to put aside worries about time and distance and appreciate the wonder in our surroundings or even the wonder of our own bodies moving across the ground. Many use easy or recovery days as the time to socialize with fellow runners. This can be a wonderful activity that nourishes the mind and soul, but there is something to be said about the solitary and reflective runs, as well. Wonderful opportunities exist if one just is open to them.

For me the place I turn for these mental and spiritual recovery days is almost always the trails. I appreciate the soft surface that the trails give me from the physical recovery standpoint, but it is the mental/spiritual aspect that I have been appreciating a lot more lately. That is not to say that one must get to the trails to be mentally and spiritually refreshed by a run. I have had some wonderfully magical runs through neighborhoods appreciating the architecture or the landscaping. It does not necessarily take a lot of special planning, but it does take the willingness to open one's mind and one's eyes to an appreciation of the magic wherever one finds oneself -- as Scott Jurek said in a recent article just being alive and appreciating the moment.

I have discovered a gem of a spot for my recovery runs. It is a little known park, at least for runners. It is populated mostly by walkers, many with their puppies in tow, which is fine with me. It has a  little of everything: paved trails, grassy trails, packed dirt, a lake, wildlife, and wildflowers.

I had run there several times before I began to appreciate it as more than just a flat, soft surface. What really helped open my eyes was that recently, after my two very grueling trail races at Keyes Peak 
and Dances with Dirt, I was just physically too wiped out to go fast. I was forced to slow down to almost a walk, and this gave me plenty of time to look around. I was amazed at all the things I had been missing and how much there was there to "enchant" someone who took the time to look.

A second experience that drove this home was a recent run I had with my friend Kate on this trail. It was her first time.  It was also raining and almost dark. We had the most amazing run, complete with herds of deer, scampering bunnies, and some very aggressive little frogs. It was really magical. It did way more for my soul than it did for the body.

So, the next time you are feeling that your running schedule has become too much, too repetitive, too uninspired, try making a switch to your attitude on your easy days or recovery runs. Find a place that will nourish your mind and your spirit and run there. Leave your watch at home if you can. It will do a lot to infuse joy back into your running.

To get you motivated, I am including a video of my Hawk Meadow run. (Note: If what you see there are just a bunch of trees, some weeds, and some garden pests destroying someone's field, then your mind and spirit may indeed need some serious re-enchantment.)

Do you have a run that enchants you? I would love to hear where you like to run when you need a mental or spiritual boost.

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