Because rest is greatly feared and underrated by endurance runners everywhere…
An excerpt from the book:
“Somewhere along the way, on the trails or roads where we run and train and race, in our sport that knows no seasonal bounds, a time to rest will arrive, acknowledged or not. Even the iron-willed runners, those people whose names you seem to see or read about on every page of results in UltraRunning or online or in local newspapers, must pause or else slowly start the inevitable downward spiral caused by physical fatigue and emotional burnout. That pause can come, maybe ought to come, with the season’s turning; the opportunity for that pause is a gift of winter.
Pausing to rest seems so foreign to us, but each and every one of us, from the leaders racing down from Hope Pass or across No Hands Bridge to those who wander trails and byways barely beating cutoffs, eating more brownies than gels, naming animals and plants as they extend conversations over hill and dale, can benefit from reduced levels of effort.
Rest has never meant becoming the protectorate of the couch; it only means decreasing the effort level, changing the emphasis from one of continual challenge to one where aching joints and muscles finally get to quit cringing from inner voices talking about an upcoming race or one more fartlek or one last mile in an all-out sprint down the hill.
Believing in rest, its need and its benefits, is not easy for us. The discussions over taper—two weeks or three—are related to our fear that fitness will go flying out the door if we don’t go out that same door, shoes laced and intentions serious. My first serious encounter with rest was as the Avenue of the Giants Marathon approached. It was my first year of running, my third marathon—the second having been just three weeks earlier. My legs were dead. My mind was shot. While the latter is not unusual, the former was troublesome. What could be wrong? I thumbed through my then-meager library of running books, finally finding some thoughts on rest.
Whoa! I could rest completely for the next four or five days and still be able to run a marathon? Right, yeah, sure. Aching knees helped with the decision. A mile or two of beach walking on the way to the redwoods and another mile or two amongst the giants was the most I did that week. I don’t know if it was the magic of running beneath their limbs and branches or if it was the rest, but the marathon went well that Saturday morning, capping a week with five days of no running. I extended this idea to a week or so of walking, some shuffling, maybe a little jogging, but no running as the following winter passed. I slowly learned (high skull-thickness factor) that rest was okay, was useful, was maybe even important, a tool to be included in the training toolbox.”
To someone who understands, no explanation is necessary. To someone who does not understand, no amount of explanation will suffice. I had rolled those few words around in my head for the last several miles, first trying to get them in the right order (while not being sure there was something real to recall), then, while on a trail miles from the nearest Google point, trying to attribute them to someone. I could not; then comes the hardest thing to do with a phrase or tune that has settled into the conscious mind while on a run—I tried to forget it until I got home. To someone who…
It had started with “Why are you running?” shouted at me as I was careening down a set of switchbacks surrounded by dense underbrush. I was looking down, concentrating on roots and footing with only minimal glances forward in case there were hikers coming at me. The question broke in on my concentration. I broke stride and looked up to see four alarmed-looking faces, each trying to see up the trail behind me—behind me? “Why are…—behind me? I looked at them. The woman, evidently the one whose shout I had heard, repeated, “Why are you running?”
I stopped. I looked at her and her companions, two of them looking at me, the other one still looking up the trail somewhat apprehensively. “I was running because, uh, well, these are the trails I run on.” “You mean there is nothing chasing you?” Chasing me? Now I looked up the trail. “No, not that I know of, I was just running because these are the trails that I run.” The woman who had first shouted at me resumed the interview by asking, “Aren’t you a little old to be running around alone out here?” Miffed that my latest dose of Grecian Formula 44 was obviously a failure, I nodded agreement and ran on down the trail.
Why was I running? To keep my resting pulse in the forties? To justify the largest shoe rack in the neighborhood? To continue to be able to wear the same size Levis I wore in high school? Because one of these times I am going to do this 10.2-mile (certified, standardized, scrutinized, and stamped) loop without catching a root? It certainly wasn’t because I was training for something—the earliest I might show up at a starting line was October up on Orcas Island, maybe. Why was I running? The reasons and incentives to run are many and varied. I once ran home because Kathy had got back to the trailhead first and drove home, leaving me a note on the hikers’ registration box, “You can make it before dark if you hurry.”
I might be running because I am in the year of my father’s death. There are weak hereditary links between why he died and why I might or might not. One doctor assured me the overall health running gives me had long ago negated any inherited physiological defect. His assurances were couched in just enough medical qualifiers to prevent them being facts. As best I can determine the chances of my keeling over and becoming a search and rescue object are so slim that on a normal day’s run they don’t raise conscious thoughts or cares, and anyway, it would be preferable to watch one last sunset while gasping for breath ‘neath a tree that first broke ground before Columbus weighed anchor than to rest not quite comfortably on the cold tiles of a kitchen floor awaiting the sound of an approaching first-aid kit on wheels.
We actually went out one afternoon because Kathy found one of those calorie calculators and calories-burned-per-mile charts then asked what I was fixing for dinner. Enchiladas. With guacamole? Yes. Sour cream? Yes, and black beans and jasmine rice, too, why? After a few minutes of silence, the reply came, “We need to run twelve miles before dinner.” Oh, why? You counted what? Oh, hmmm, should I mention the mantecaditos? No. No, it is best not to say anything now. Why are you running? Because the almond shortbread cookies (with flaked coconut added), of which I have been known to eat a bowlful with only one glass of milk, are known to beckon at two o’clock in the morning, and I baked 63 of the little rascals just before we left the house.
Mooses! A quick exclamation, a check of the rearview mirror, then hard on the brakes and I pulled off onto the shoulder. We were out of the car and across the road in seconds. Kathy asked where, and I pointed to the left at a small hill we were approaching. We slowed as we got to the skyline, then edged forward to look down at the meadow—noiselessly, we thought, we crept forward. Oh wow! There were two moose calves just below us, next to the creek at the edge of the meadow. One was standing in the water eating grasses along the edge of the creek; the other seemed to be just enjoying the sun. We had been watching for a few minutes when Kathy quietly asked where Mom might be—hmmm, the calves are sort of small looking—Mom? I don’t think she would leave them alone. Mom! Apparently Mom did not think we should be watching her calves and (how did she get that close?) had come to ask us to leave. I recalled that a quiet voice will sometimes soothe animals, so I started talking quietly (Kathy later asked why I chose that moment to start reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade) as we tried to move backward to get some trees between Mom and us. Mom snorted and charged. We turned and ran for the trees. Someone up above will someday tell me how far we ran (a quarter mile and more fer shure), how far Mom ran (probably only a few steps), which animals bet how much on whom that day just south of Yellowstone, on down by Lewis Lake, and how many variations on why we were running were heard that night in the burrows and caves, meadows and creek sides in the Tetons.
The daydreaming that familiar trails allow was broken by the trilling of the ravens that live about a hundred yards in from the end of the pavement. The trailhead was in sight. I could see a runner coming toward me. As we met she smiled and said, “Beautiful day for running.” “Yes,” I replied, “yes, it is, and that’s a good reason to run,” and the thought came back to me, “To someone who understands…”
Thinking… a not oft’ occurring condition in these parts. Kathy and I had dinner with a friend yesterday. He is 82. He returned a book, Blame It On the Rain by Laura Lee. The book led to conversation about how weather guides our activities — if we can at least guess at what is out there waiting for us.
Living in the Pacific Northwest weather sneaks up on us from the southwest as the clouds are pushed over the Olympic Peninsula; from the southeast when the Aleutian Low moves down and inland as the seasons change; from the north and northeast when the Polar Vortex exercises its influence on the weather systems north of the 45th Parallel. The North Pacific High draws the cooling air down from the Alaskan coast and keeps our summers mild and, in ‘normal’ years, keeps the snow at a viewing distance instead of a driving challenge.
These two systems, the Aleutian Low and the North Pacific High, create a slight problem for us as we head out the door. Do we look to the southeast, northwest, west — where will our weather come from for this run? How should we dress?
A second weather book: Weather Wisdom by Albert Lee, became a read-several-times book as I learned I needed to be able to look at the sky, not the weather channel. Oops… something in the oven… be back in a few minutes… this is not complete.
When we are on the road I try to get up before sunrise, partly to see the sunrise, partly to look at the sky–hoping I am looking in the direction we will travel.
Most places we have lived the weather comes from the west. In Arkansas the thunder would boom and roll in from Oklahoma. In North Dakota the winds from the north would be cold; from the west would bring snow—here on the island the morning was filled with a sunrise that went on and on, while the weather-bringer, the sky behind us, was calm that day.
Somewhere along the way I started looking at tree branches or flags, looking at the movement of a flag almost straight out from its staff–listening for when the trees quit swaying and started cracking. We have left the woods quickly on some days. Other days the wind stayed gentle, the trees merely danced for us as we ran. If the wind is not here, a rare occurrence, the fog comes to play or stay. The sound of the wind in the trees is replaced by the many-toned fog horns. The ships don’t really care what is out there. They just want to know where it is.
Only (almost) in the Pacific Northwest can you leave the rain forest green sogginess, cross a pass like this an hour later and in another hour be running in open desert enjoying the sun—with the almost always present grey clouds capping the Cascade Mountains just an arm’s length away.
If we can see those mountains… we might forget most of our weather comes from behind us.
On this day the Seattle weather people talked of heavy rain. The snow was falling thick and heavy about forty miles to our right. We are in a “rain shadow” and seldom have snow on the ground or days above 70ºF during the summer.
A brief recollection of what took place yesterday.
The Whidbey Island Marathon was this morning. I wasn’t involved. I hadn’t really even thought about it until…
Two people (one male, one female : opinion, not fact) wearing just about every running accessory laz has never endorsed were discussing something — heatedly or just with great animation, I really don’t know or care — in the Burger King parking lot (near an almost health foodish place).
I was on the way home from staggering around in the woods for however long it had been — had on a t-shirt from a running event I had actually completed (Grasslands down Tejas way, put on by those fine folks at the North Texas Trail Runners ensemble). I suppose I looked like a runner, maybe age and brier scratches, dirt and trail shoes made me look experienced, this is another I-do-not-know moment. Anyway, I got out of the car (remember, I was driving home…); the woman (see assumption #1) looked at me and then at her compatriot and said (why, I will never know), “Ask him!”
Ask me what?… Uh… get back in the car. This will lead to no good. They look harmless. Noooooo, get back in…
Me: Hi, can I help you?
Her: We just finished the Whidbey Island Marathon.
Me: Wow… congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your first?
Her (pointing at the BK): Isn’t a hamburger a good recovery snack?
Me: Uh… yes, if you get the Double Whopper with cheese.
Him (pointing…): But, I….
Someone asked if I was still running. I said yes. The response, “Well, I never see your name in any results.” I tried to explain I did not feel the need to pay money to run at someone else’s convenience. Then someone asked if my wife runs…