Consistent running has a remarkable way of pervading all your senses: it penetrates your physical being, your mental focus, your emotional and social experiences. It becomes you, and you become it. And then, it wants more. "Again, again!" Even the most incipient runner feels this. Call it an intimate urge, a yearning to prevail, a desire to succeed, a runner's high. After all, success breeds success. Consistent running [and its documented effects] can really land its hook for good.
And that's great! That's exactly what it takes to finally own that Reserve label "Runner", or to kick some other nasty habit, or to understand certain speak at the gym or local happy hour. It takes consistency. It also helps to have a goal and a working knowledge of your own personal sense of balance, translated into a realistic running plan or schedule.
Many runners, especially those reeling from all those aforementioned good feelings, forget to include Off Days from their short-term strategy. Recovery days are essential components to a well-rounded training regime. There are several names for this tried and true notion: hard-easy, overload-recovery, stress-rest, run slow to run fast, smarter not harder, etc., etc.
Running all out (or even in your half-speed comfort zone) every day, does little to really improve your running capacity. Whether its speed or endurance you are after, or just longevity, there needs to be a changing pattern to your running. Because remember, the body will adapt to whatever it is you do - repetitiously.
A well-rounded training schedule will incorporate variations in frequency, intensity and duration to create an effective pattern of overload/recovery. When the body is stressed by the physical demands, it requires a period of rest or recovery to adequately heal and adapt accordingly. Think about body building or weight training: A worked, stimulated muscle needs three to seven days to recover and regain the condition and strength it had before completing the workout. Another couple of days of rest are required to allow the muscle to over-compensate and grow stronger. Training the muscle again during this recovery and overcompensation phase can interfere with the body's recuperative process and lead to diminishing gains, or over-training.
In running, it's the same thing: When you run, muscles tear, and if allowed to rest and recover, the healing promotes improved running/speed. If the body is not allowed adequate time to recover, a deficit could develop leading to damage in the muscular and cellular functioning. Think of rest as part of the sustenance required for the next hard workout.
An example of a balanced week might look this this: Sunday - long run, Monday - easy recovery run, Tuesday - easy run, Wednesday - intensity workout/speed work, Thursday- rest, Friday - strength workout incorporating hills, Saturday - rest.
Let's not forget the emotional, mental and social overload/recovery needs. You know what they say about all work and no play, or the type-A personality, or the self-absorbed runner. Balance is the key. Rest, relaxation, change of pace, change of scenery...these are the antidotes to an intense, consistent, committed running regime. If you're not noticing anything except your split times on your watch or mileage in your log, perhaps it's time to take an inventory of the other parts of your life: your body (winces, aches, pains), moods, openness to another's ideas, relationships, fun...you know what I mean.
Plan to be a well-rounded runner and allow running to be your specialty. I'm sure there are lots of other gifts and strengths that have (or deserve) a place in your world.
Please feel free to engage in this running conversation. I'd love to hear about your experiences.