Fear and Rest Days

What do you mean run zero miles?! image via wikimedia.
What do you mean run zero miles?! image via wikimedia.

Rest is both literally and figuratively a four-letter word for many runners, including me. I hate zeros in my training log! I hate them even though I know I’ve read somewhere that rest and recovery are important elements of good training. Why do I hate rest days? Why is it so hard to relax on an off day? This was really bugging me, so I consulted The Great Salty Running Index for posts tagged rest, rest days, and recovery. And sure enough, in reading those posts, I stumbled on another four-letter word: fear.

What does fear have to do with hating rest days? As it turns out, a lot more than I could have ever imagined.

You have a very real fear that you will enjoy having free time.

I was instantly comforted to read this from Rosemary. I always fear that a couple of days off will open a whole new world of how to spend my time, and I thought I was the only one. After a day or two off, I’ll start to sleep in, watch more TV, and lose motivation at work. I fear that one rest period will end my running life. When it comes to rest days, I idolize the idea of running more than I value rest as part of being a runner.

In Allspice’s post brilliantly titled Does This Rest Day Make My Butt Look Big, another nagging fear takes the spotlight:

Taking a day off from exercise can also be extremely stressful for those concerned about gaining weight.

Look, I don’t watch my weight … so long as I’m within two pounds of the lowest I’ve weighed in adulthood. I’ll pinch around my stomach, thighs, and back to see if I feel “fluffy.” I’ll look in the mirror and then look at a picture from when I was at “goal weight” and compare my cheeks and chin. Unhealthy as all this is, the worst part is I tell people weight doesn’t affect me. It is a lie, and I walk around holding both the fear of weight gain, and the lie about that fear, like Gollum and his ring.

Since my rest-day post was shaping up as a post about fear, I headed back to the Great Salty Running Index and sure enough there were posts on this exact topic.  This post about fear by Salty nailed it. Her opening paragraph in this three-year-old post leapt telepathically from my brain onto the screen:

My biggest weakness is my fear of pain. I’m afraid to hurt. If I see pain coming my instinct is to make it go away. I’m not sure it would be obvious to anyone who knows me. I think people think I’m strong and tough, but deep down I’m a mega-wuss.

I sat quietly rereading her words. I read my life on screen. Even very close friends and family take for granted my ability to navigate tough terrain. I am self-sufficient, self-assured, and deeply afraid.

The last time I sat with fear and moved through it was around age 27, when I began to make plans for my life as if I’d never get married. It was a real fear, since the good Southern girl in me had always been so sure I’d marry right out of college. I embraced having roommates, began tutoring at a nearby school, and mentored a college student. I read books and articles on subjects that made me passionate. I acknowledged my fear of life alone and found a life to love. (Incidentally and perhaps fittingly, after getting comfortable with the idea of being alone I found someone wonderful to share that life with.)

Now I’m handling fear as it manifests in running. Through my Feldenkrais background, I know all about the “fight or flight” responses in the body. I’ve learned to breathe deeply and maintain composure. But training for a sub-20:00 5K exceeds my ability to side-step fear. Track workouts that were once fun and experimental now fill me with dread: of hurting and overheating, of missing my times by a second or two, of hitting a plateau. I run tight, afraid that somewhere on the oval, I’ll reveal myself as a fraud. I carry the weight of fear that if I don’t reach this goal, everyone will know I’m not fast and I’m not worthy of running. Admittedly, I’m also afraid to express these anxieties on Salty Running! After all, I’m a contributor specifically for my track workouts and 5K goal. How can I confess how afraid I am to chase down the goal I used as a calling card?!

I kept reading Salty’s vulnerable, must-read post. I saw just how temporary and not-fatal missing a goal is:

I had faith in myself and my training and I wasn’t afraid of the pain this time. I ended up bonking and having a miserable jog of shame to the finish and it hurt. It hurt bad. But, it hurt way less than the hurt I would have felt if I wussed out and avoided the pain.

Who knew? Missing a running goal might not be the end of the world after all. Image via wikipedia.
Who knew? Missing a running goal might not be the end of the world after all. Image via wikipedia.

She had faith in herself and her training. On race day, only confidence accompanied her. At the finish line, only pride. Not only that, she survived. Evidently the world does not stop turning if you miss your target race time.

I have a lot to learn about mental toughness, physical pain, and accepting that failure might happen. I’m reading Stan Beecham’s Elite Minds to learn how the pros manage the psychological side of physical endeavors. I’m learning from the Salty bloggers both strength and grace. For now, today, I’m not afraid to work hard for the goal I’ve been so public about. I will run believing it will happen, and that I am capable. Today I can say running pain is temporary, and it’s nothing compared to the joy of giving my all.

On a day I feared rest, I realized what I really feared was running.

What do you fear?

I'm a 31-year-old cat mom to Cordelia and health care fundraiser in Nashville, Tennessee. I'm working toward a 20:00 5K, though I do race other distances throughout the year. I write about track workouts and tempo runs, recovery methods, and general life lessons.

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  1. I was afraid that I’d never run again as hamstring tear prevented me from running for several years. I’d start again, then be felled by extreme pain. I am now running more consistently but not pain-free. I fear I’ll reinjure the legs and hobble as an old lady, forever banned from true, free, physical movement. I fear that IF I run a half marathon, I’ll fail. Yes, I can finish but do I want to run 10 min/mile pace? No. I fear my own competitiveness. I fear letting go of what I once was to figure out where I am when/if running isn’t at least a glimmer of hope.

  2. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this post reads like my life. I don’t just fear rest days. I’m petrified by them. And mostly because I’m terrified I will gain all the weight back that I worked so hard to lose. That I’ll sit down on the couch with a bag of cookies and never get back up again. I’ve been trying to find balance with eating and exercise. Thanks for writing this. It helps to know others experience the same thing.