Sunday, December 05, 2010

Fatigue is the Heart of Poetry

In my years of running I have found that taking time off is important. After long months of training and racing I eventually reach a point of mild burnout where I simply don’t feel like running anymore. It’s important for my mental and spiritual health to acknowledge those feelings by heeding that desire to sleep in and take it easy. I take anywhere from several weeks to several months off every year.

In the same way that a day of rest during a week of your training cycle actually makes you stronger, a chunk of rest during your year can prevent burnout as well as injuries. Rest, however, can reach its own point of burnout.

The title of this post comes from a friend of mine who is a runner and poet. If he is right that fatigue is the heart of poetry, and I have every reason to agree, then I have been living a life devoid of poetry lately. Given how I’m feeling right now, this makes perfect sense. It also explains why, in the last two days, I have run more miles than I did in the preceding four weeks. (I won’t say how pathetically few miles that was, but I will say that it’s pretty easy to run more than zero miles.)

Last week was one of my worst in recent memory. I couldn’t cope. I tried to get out the door on multiple occasions for a run and I was simply too distraught to lace up my shoes. Finally, Friday afternoon rolled around, and as much as I just wanted to escape to my car after work and go home, awash with relief that I had held it together for one more day, instead I forced myself to change into my running clothes and head out on the trails for an easy 5 miles.

It actually wasn’t all that easy, and I can’t even say it was that much fun. I felt slow, and weak. I did not feel like a runner. But what I did feel was just a tiny bit better. Not much, but it was enough.

And that’s why I forced myself. Because after doing this for several decades, I’ve learned a few things. Yes, time off from running is important. Getting back to running is even more important, and sometimes much more difficult to do.

Running is many things to me, but right now I’m recalling what a stabilizing force it is in my life. Running fights depression. Running helps me to think more clearly, as I sometimes work my problems out best while in motion. Running can also be an escape from those problems. Running provides structure to my life and helps me keep the various parts of it organized. Running makes me feel like I accomplished something, even if it was only to get my running shoes on and get out the door. Sometimes that’s a feat worth being proud of.

Perhaps another benefit of time off is that it helps me to appreciate my time spent training and racing, rather than taking it all for granted. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Needless to say, I think my off-season is over.


  1. A perfect post (again!) for those of us who understand but do not fully comply with the importance of rest in running,...and in everything.

  2. Rest is just passive just have to be good at being passive...know many A types like that!

  3. Anne - Thanks. Hey, don't forget the rest! Otherwise, life has a way of forcing it upon you, you know?

    Stuart - 'Rest is passive training.' I like that! Sometimes I'm great at rest. Sometimes, not so much.

  4. I totally agree. I have only been running a couple years and I am wrapping up my first real "season" of rest and I have found it surprisingly difficult to get things moving again. My joints and body earned the rest, but my mind seems to have trouble getting back into the swing.

  5. I always thought that alcohol and loss were the heart of poetry.

    Time off from running does recharge one mentally as well as physically; it sounds like we're in the same place (though I think I dug myself a deeper hole from which to climb).

    Run with others, if you can. They always make it easier to get out the door.

  6. Dude - Never fear, you WILL get back in shape. That's the best thing about having done it before - I know I can do it again. Keep at it.

    Steve - Well heck, if your definition is correct, my life is full of poetry. I still haven't decided between Western States and liver failure. Ha! kidding!! Good call on having training partners, for many reasons.

  7. Thanks, Megs. And for the call. You're the bestest.

  8. I've learned a great deal about the value of rest this year, and how much I love it :) Great post, as always. I've been so out of the loop on my blog reading lately, it's so nice to be back reading up on my favorite peeps again!

  9. Paige - Yay, good to have you back! :)