Take it easy, take some time off, put your feet up . . . lie still . . . When I hear these phrases I get an overwhelming urge to go for a run. This might be irrational, and I embrace that dichotomy.
Running feeds my soul, and never lets me down. Even on a bad run, I’m never disappointed that I got out the door and into the fresh air, trails and mountains. I’ve grown from running and it’s a part of me, so when there comes a time when I can’t or shouldn’t run, there’s always an inner battle to fight.
Logically, I know my body needs rest and recovery to keep performing and running without injuries, but sometimes my mind tells me a different thing. Especially during taper weeks for races, when I feel fat, lazy and inactive. My mind plays tricks on me, that I’m losing fitness, or getting slower . . . I have to constantly remind myself that these times – where I move more slowly – are necessary, just as necessary as my long training runs.
I learn best through trail and error. I learned a valuable lesson about rest this season. So let me take you through what I did first:
1) No rest after tough races.
My first 50 mile race was in June this year, Big Horn 50 mile (you can read my blog recap of it: http://hillygoat.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/bighorn-50-race-report/). I raced it pretty hard. The steep, uneven, off camber downhill left my quads and IT bands wrecked.
But, I soon forgot the pain of the race and was still riding my adrenaline high, so I rested for 2-3 days and started running again. I knew I was tired and my muscles were still beat up, plus I had a weird pain in my foot (when I would propel myself uphill). But, my IT band was the real issue.
I had a huge knot in my left quad and even with stretching and rolling, it was difficult to relieve. But the real issue was my left IT band. It was tight, going downhill hurt my left knee had this clicking noise. Every time I would extend/bend my knee it would click/snap . . . I learned this was because my IT band was so tight, that it was snapping over the bone at the connection point in my knee, coming off its normal ‘tract’ . . . basically not good.
I still kept trying to train on it, but I soon realized I would have to cut back if I wanted to run Speedgoat 50k in less than 3 weeks. This race was pretty important to me, being my first big competition race, so I really wanted to compete and see what I could do.
I had to alter my training, I had to take more days off and focus on stretching and rolling. I could run flat without it hurting, and biking was fine, although I had to be careful to not climb too much. It was really frustrating. I also had to be diligent with daily glute and hip flexor strengthening exercises. If one day I forgot those, or to roll out, I would suffer for 2 days with pain and the clicking knee.
It wasn’t until I had 4 days of running pain free that I decided to run Speedgoat 50k, and even when I stepped on the start line I knew I wasn’t 100% recovered. Not a good feeling, especially since Speedgoat was notoriously hard. During that race, I hit a wall by mile 15, and had already started to feel my IT cramping up. Plus, I stepped on several rocks, so my feett felt horrible too! The only thing that got me to the finish line was me repeating to myself “I’m taking a whole week off after this!”
So now I will tell you about scenario #2, where I take significant time off after tough races.
2) Listen to your body, quiet your mind and REST, damnit!
I literally couldn’t walk normally for a day after speedgoat. So it was definitely time to rest. Even by Monday, my mind was wandering and telling me to run, but I was stubborn and went to yoga insteadd. I made sure to stretch, roll, do easy yoga and sleep for 7 days straight. It was challenging to switch up my routine (remember I like this running thing), but it was a needed break, physically and mentally.
Once I started running again, I was surprised at how strong I felt. I hadn’t lost any fitness, but was motivated, and ready to start training again. I eased back into the training week and before long, I was out doing big loops in the mountains, feeling really strong. I made sure to keep up my foam rolling and strength exercises for my IT, I definitely didn’t want that issue again.
My next race was Run the Rut 50K in Big Sky Montana, and I was feeling strong. I raced very smart and was very pleased with my 5th place finish, but most of all, with how I felt during and after the race. My IT didn’t cramp up, and I wasn’t completely thrashed after the race. To me this says I trained smart, since my muscles were recovered and ready for such a hard effort. A stark contrast to Speedgoat (which was an easier race). 2 short weeks after Run the Rut, I was even able to race Flagstaff Sky Race, and win the US Sky Running Ultra Series.
This is definitely a plan I will be sticking to. Rest is a 4-letter word I have learned to like.