Monday, September 05, 2005

Activity and Rest

By John Bingham.

It takes a while to learn and to accept that a training program has two components:activity and rest. To be successful, we have to find the balance between activity and rest that is appropriate for us. No book, no chart, no friend or coach can devise a plan that is as well suited to our hopes and dreams as we ourselves can. We may be able to find general guidelines from these other sources, but, in fact, only we can decide what is just right.

During the activity phase, we ask our body to do things it hasn't done, or to do them longer or faster. If we are new to running, the activity phase may be as simple as making ourselves get out the door and move on a regular basis. In the early weeks and months of running, just doing something, anything physical wll make enormous new demands on our bodies.

Later, as our bodies begin to adapt to the new activity level, we want to push past what is comfortable. We want to challenge ourselves. We want to feel the satisfaction that comes in doing more than we ever have. At any stage, this constant search for that which lies just beyond our abilities can be a potentially dangerous mind-set.

Because we take great pride in counting the minutes or hours that we engage in activity or in logging the miles that we cover, we are tempted to focus exclusively on the activity phase. Because we feel so good about the days that we engage in activity, we can easily come to see those days as the only ones that matter.

The result is that we often ignore the need for rest. The rest phase, those days when we don't run, is seen as wasted opportunity. It is torture to take a day off, especially when everything is working well. Missing a day prompts a mental message for some people that they are not as disciplined or committed as they should be.

Part of the problem is that our rest days often are imposed on us by lack of time or the imposition of other responsibilities in our lives. When we miss a day of activity because we can't fit it in, we tend to view the rest phase as unproductive. It's very hard to take pride in having done nothing.

But resting is not doing nothing. Resting is giving the body a chance to recoup, to renew itself, and ultimately to rebuild itself into a body that will move faster or farther. The rest phase is the only time that the body has to bring itself up to your expectations.

The training effect that we all want, the changes in our body's ability to handle the stress of running occurs during the rest phase, not the activity phase. The adaption process takes place while you are resting. The days when you don't run are the days when your body incorporates the new strength for the next run.


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