Everything changes and nothing is static. This is an inescapable fact of life that we are reminded of, especially now, as the leaves turn colors and fall to the earth around us, as the mornings and evenings become colder, the light becoming increasingly scarce as the calendar pages turn. We can feel these changes in our bodies, emotionally and physically; some people have seasonal depression or aches and pains that worsen with the damp, winter air. Nature, in its eternal wisdom and grace, abides by the law that things must change, that there must forever be a dynamic ebb and flow. Similarly, if there is no variety, no variation (at least occasionally) in our own modes and manners of life, we will likely run into problems.
All natural processes exist in cycles; all core elements of our lives are cyclical. This basic structure allows us to understand relativity and make comparisons -- and make sense -- of the varied experiences that we are a part of. We know and appreciate the light of day because we know well the darkness of night. We know exhausted and delirious because we have felt energized and alert. We know and love the fall season because we have been long-acquainted with winter, spring, and summer. Death and birth, sickness and health; we adore the thrill of elation because we know the heartache of melancholy. In our physical endeavors, we know what it is to feel strong and able because we've all felt the opposite, experienced the displeasure of defeat, of not feeling up to the task. Variety is essential for healthy comprehension of our lives and the world around us. It seems that you can't have a good sense of something without its "other" to put it in context, to compare and contrast it to. In order to be fully functioning, evolved and ever-evolving human beings, we must celebrate diversity and remind ourselves to accept the ups and downs -- the "this" and the "that" -- and know that experiencing those extremes allow us to understand each that much better. Think about it: how can we understand the true joy of happiness without also knowing the pain of sadness?
What I'm trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is that people need to rest. And relax. And better accept the ebb and flow of their physical bodies and athletic pursuits.
Just as it seems insane and unhealthy to me to have only 2 weeks of vacation time a year, it also in most cases seems insane and unhealthy to only take 2 weeks of rest or "offseason" a year (many folks would find it difficult to even take that much time away from their chosen physical outlets). I saw a t-shirt the other day that boasted that the t-shirt’s owner had "no offseason" (among other claims). I get it, and even appreciate the mentality to an extent, but overall that mindset just doesn't seem very smart or thoughtful. Runners and athletes are often obsessive people who are far more at risk of over-training than not training enough so promoting an "all or nothing" approach seems ill-advised at best and downright dangerous at worst. Sure, there are some folks who seem more than a little unreal, bionic humans who don't need the same amount of rest and recuperation as the majority of us, who somehow flourish under workloads that makes the rest of us wilt. Those people are the exceptions though and we can't let them taint our own honest assessments of ourselves and our physical abilities and limitations.
Learn to rest well, I say. After a big race, after a major goal has been ticked off the list, just sit back and take it easy for a while, indulge, eat … eat fatty, pleasurable foods and drink … drink booze and whatever else delights you. Let the body really rest, not for a few days but for a few weeks -- ligaments and tendons, mind, body, soul, and everything else. Get massages and soak in hot baths, watch your favorite movies and let the success of your accomplishment fill your chest with satisfaction. Sure, your muscles might feel recovered in just a couple days and you might feel tip-top and be raring to go, ready to get back out there and rip it up again. Be sensible though and give your endlessly hard-working body a little (more) time for recuperation than you think or want to allow. Of course life is short and all that and we've got to get after it while we're able, but just take a second to think about it. Think about nature, about the wisdom of hibernation, the brilliant simplicity of "down-time," and the basic concept of real and total rest. Everything in nature has an "offseason" and, therefore, we should too; after all we could use that extra time to pay some attention to things that we've neglected over the course of our obsessive training -- family, friends, loved ones, work, other hobbies, and so on.
As I come back to running after the Bear 100 at the end of September, I see clearly how entrenched runners are in the felt need for constant activity. "What's next?" people ask me. "I just ran 100 freaking miles," I think, "so I'm just gonna chill out and rest awhile and not think (too much at least) about what's to come." People always seem slightly taken aback when I tell them that my future plans are undecided and that I'm really just relaxing for the moment and not thinking about it.
That's ok, they'll learn. Like a grizzly bear ambling toward their shelter for the long months ahead, people will (hopefully) someday embrace the wisdom of rest, accept the importance of downtime, and allow themselves the stillness of self-satisfaction and a job well done.
Clearly, we've all got something to shoot for.
Willie McBride is a native of Chicago, IL but has been living in and exploring the American West since 2000. He attended the Colorado College, majoring in English with a focus on Creative Writing, solidifying his love of writing and his need for mountains. An avid hiker, climber, and trail/ultramarathon runner he now resides in NW Portland, close by the trails of Forest Park. He started a personal/group training and coaching business called Animal Athletics (AnimalAthleticsPDX.com) with fellow ultra runner Yassine Diboun in spring of 2012 and the two provide top-notch services to aspiring outdoor athletes of all abilities.