My running story is pretty typical: I grew up hating it and avoiding the dreaded mile-run day in gym class. It wasn't until my post-college days that I started to see the appeal—along with my roommate's bedroom wall adorned with medals and happy finish line photos.
Once I started running and racing regularly, I was hooked. My times began to drop, and every race was a new opportunity to set a personal record. I was getting faster and fitter, and for the first time in my adult life, I was starting to love and appreciate my body for all its impressive capabilities. (Getting faster can be fun! Here are 22 ways to pick up the pace.)
But the more I started to run, the less I let myself rest.
I constantly wanted to run more. More miles, more days per week, always more.
I read lots of running blogs—and eventually started my own—and all those girls seemed to work out every single day. So I could—and should—do that too, right?
But the more I ran, the less awesome I felt. Eventually, my knees started to hurt, and everything always felt tight. I remember once bending down to pick something off the floor, and my knees hurting so badly that I couldn't stand back up. Instead of getting faster, I was suddenly starting to slow down. WTF? But I didn't consider myself to be technically injured, so I kept powering through.
When I decided to train for my first marathon, I began working with a coach, whose wife (also a runner, naturally) caught on to the fact that I was cheating on my training plan by not taking rest days as instructed. When my coach said to take the day off from running, I'd hit up a spin class at the gym, or engage in some kickboxing.
"I hate rest days," I remember telling her.
"If you don't like rest days, it's because you're not working hard enough on the other days," she replied.
Ouch! But was she right? Her comment forced me to take a step back and look at what I was doing and why. Why did I feel the need to run or engage in some kind of cardio activity every single day? Was it because everyone else was doing it? Was it because I was afraid I'd lose fitness if I took a day off? Was I afraid of OMG gaining weight if I let myself chill for 24 hours?
I think it was some combination of the above, coupled with the fact that I was genuinely excited to be running or working out.
But what if I pushed hard a few days a week, and let myself bounce back on the other days? My coach and his wife were obviously right. (Of course they were.) It took a while, but I eventually found a happy balance between working out and resting. (Not every race will be a PR. Here are five other goals to consider.)
Turns out, I love rest days now.
To me, a rest day isn't "a rest day from running" where I secretly take a spin class and a 90-minute hot Vinyasa class. A rest day is a lazy day. A legs-up-on-the-wall day. A slow-stroll-with-the-puppy day. It's a day to let my body recover, rebuild, and come back stronger.
And guess what?
Now that I take one or two days off every week, my paces have dropped again. My body doesn't ache the way it used to, and I look forward to my runs more because I'm not doing them every single day.
Everybody—and every body—is different. We all recover differently and require different amounts of rest.
But rest days haven't made me lose fitness. I haven't gained weight from taking one day off a week. At first, I spent my rest days unplugged, so I wouldn't log onto Strava and see all the OMG amazing workouts my friends were doing while I was on episode 8 of a season-long Orange is the New Black marathon. (Social media can be your best running friend or your worst enemy. Here's why.)
Now, I know I'm doing what's best for me.
And if I could go back and tell my fifth grade self anything, it'd be to go for the mile and not hide out under the bleachers. Turns out, running can be super fun—as long as you treat your body right every mile of the way.