Rest – Such a Four-Letter Word

Mary & the boys – resting

Why is that so many runners seem to think that REST is a four-letter word?

Some reasons runners may think that way are:

  • the dreaded Did Not Run (DNR) in your running log
  • no miles to add to your weekly, monthly or annual totals
  • ending a running streak of X number of days
  • giving in to weakness
  • the competition will catch up
  • admission of age catching up
  • the feeling that you forgot to do something that day – RUN
  • and I am sure you can come up with many more reasons – errr excuses

Excuse me while I sneeze into my hands (“bullshit” – there I feel better now), that is what I think of those excuses for not resting are.

Unfortunately, I have used each and every one of them at one time or another in my running life.

REST is a GOOD ThingRest is a necessary “good for your body thing” when it comes to improving your running.

Hopefully, you noticed that I did not use the word “evil” that usually goes with that saying, but called rest a “good for your body thing”. That is because I don’t want to get into the practice of calling something that is so good for us “a necessary evil”.

We have all heard that rest helps re-build and repair muscles after running or working out breaks them down, re-charges the mental batteries, help reduce injuries and all the other good things that rest does.

These were just a few a few of the articles and links that I came across very quickly on the benefits of rest. Do a Google or Bing search if you need more information on the benefits of rest.

So why is REST such a four-letter word when it is so good for you?

Out-Work Them

What I have come to know as I will out-work them attitude (the work harder, not smarter mentality) to make up for not being as talented as (you fill in the name). If they do 5 miles a day, you try for 6, if they run a 7:00 pace you try for 6:45, etc.

We have all seen the poster “While you are standing here, someone else is out training.” What kind of message does that give you, when you see it? Think about it.

  • Not a real reason – the truth is that taking a day off will only be a positive thing for you and will not be the reason your competition beats you – if they do.


Here is where I will get into trouble with some in the running community who believe that streaking is not a bad thing – sorry I disagree – see my post on Streaking a Bad Thing?

Once we get a running streak over a certain number of days, streaks tend to take on a life of their own. Runners feel pressured to keep the streak going no matter what (sickness, injury, etc.) – even to the point of going out at 11:45 P.M. and running a quick mile just to keep the streak alive – been there done that.

This time of year is especially tough, since big shots like “Runner’s World” have endorsed a through the holidays streak to motivate you to run more – look on Twitter #rwrunstreak hashtag. Hoping that runners will run more, instead of succumbing to slothdom and overeating during the Thanksgiving through New Year’s period.

There are a lot of blogs and websites out there who are now promoting starting a running streak on January 1st to see how long you can keep the steak alive during the new year.

  • Personally I do not believe that a running streak is a good enough reason to not take a day of rest – at what point is to much, too much.

Peer Pressure

How many of us are influenced by other runners who write articles, blogs, your friends who Tweet how they are doing or your running group talking during the weekly runs and you feel that if they can do a streak or just run more, you can or should too?

  • We are not in high school anymore and you have to decide for yourself how important a day off is to you and not do need to streak or run more just because “everyone or someone” is doing it.

Gain Weight

Are you scared that on your rest day, you might gain a pound or two. Are you so obsessive about your weight and are scared that if you rest you might gain some back after all your hard work to lose it? You might for a day or so, but resting is not permission to also have a day of gluttony, be reasonable in what you eat and if you do add a pound or so it is more than likely water weight and will be gone in a day or two.

  • You will not gain weight in a day, so don’t worry about it.

Not Running

Is it that you not take those rest days because resting means you are not running and you want/need to run to feel better about yourself? You enjoy the feelings that you get after your run is over and the time that you are doing something that you want/need to do. The problems of your world do not seem as big and you just feel better when you run, therefore, you – just RUN.

  • Maybe there are other issues that running is just masking that need to be addressed.What happens when (not if) you get an over-use injury and can’t run?
Running Plans

Your running plan says you are supposed to do this on this day, but your body is telling you need to something very different, like more rest – does that plan have enough flexibility to do that. How often have we become slaves to a generic 5K, 10K, 1/2 or full marathon plan that does not take into account our individual strengths or weaknesses? Far too often I believe.

This is where having a coach or someone else look at your training is very helpful, but most of us don’t have this luxury and often rely on ourselves to know more about setting up or how to change a training plan to meet our personal needs than we actually have the ability to do correctly.

  • Training plans are great, but how often does following them exactly, lead runners to not listen to their bodies and rest when they need to instead when the plan says they can.

Active Rest

This one that I have used and hear to often on Twitter, Running Forums, etc. Oh I had a rest day, I only ran X miles easy today, walked or hiked X miles, I rode my bike X miles, swam X distance or lifted X weights. Do these constitute rest day, if you are using different muscles than you do in running. There is a lot of disagreement about whether active rest is resting or not.

  • Is an easy 3.0 or even 1.0 mile resting? You have to answer that for yourself, but to me resting is putting that DNR in the log book and not doing much more than a short walk to stay loose. This is the hardest one for me to accept and not use as an excuse to not actually rest on a rest day.

Getting Older

Getting older really, really sucks, your body can not do things like it used to, but it sure as hell is better than the alternative and like everyone else there is not anything we can do about it – we all age. Far too often we forget that, especially when it comes to needing more rest, we just can’t hammer away like we did when were 25 or even 45.

As I have gotten older I have noticed that the number of easy or rest days have to be more frequent. I used to only need 1 maybe 2 rest days a month, rest is an important aspect of recovery. Now it seems as though 3-5 days a month is what my body needs – dependent upon my training cycle.

  • Your rest needs may very, but I have a sneaking suspicion that as runners get older, the body needs more rest, especially after a hard workouts.
If you Don’t Rest
Runners will begin to feel drained all the time, the little aches and pains in the knees, feet and hips that you didn’t notice before you begin to notice, you have lot less patience around others, than usual and what is the worst – your runs are not as enjoyable as they have been. Running will become a chore instead of something you look forward to doing, is that what you want your running to become? Something you have to do.

The reality is that

There is not much disputing that taking a day or even two, to rest your body, every so often is a good thing. You may be able to go long periods or shorter periods in between your rest days, but your body will begin to tell you when it needs rest. You just have to listen, which is a big problem when we are in charge of our own training, rest is not usually a priority.

Yes you can run through these signs your body is giving you and most of us do far too often. However, if you have a few of these signs, it might be time to listen and rest. Before your body betrays you and doesn’t make resting voluntary – in other words you injure something. In that case you will be out for a lot longer than a day or two.

REST is not and should not be a four-letter word to runners or anyone who works-out, it is something that should be a part of every training plan we are a part of and if it is not, than that training plan should be looked at suspiciously.

3 thoughts on “Rest – Such a Four-Letter Word

  1. Thanks for posting this! I'm struggling not necessarily with resting, but just resting from running. I can feel the burnout coming but I'm so scared to stop. I got called out by my running group leader today and we're gonna chat offline about what I need to be doing. Why is rest so hard? Oh wait, I know… definitely fear of the competition and peer pressure.


  2. Laura thank you for commenting. Rest and running are two words that don't seem to go together very, I know that I struggle with not running for a day, because I want to make X number of miles this week or what ever my goal is. No – the sad part is the lack of rest is often one of the reasons we do get burnt out or worse injured. It is one of those things we just have to do, instead of think about. :-)Harold


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