My last run was on November 2nd.  That’s 33 days ago.

I know.  Take a deep breath – it’s gonna be okay.

I got really sick at the end of October, and didn’t really get better (even when I tried to run through it).  It started as a terrible cold and morphed into a very deep, debilitating bronchitis.  I’ve struggled with respiratory infections since I was a kid.  I was born a month premature, and my theory has always been that my lungs never really developed.  I have no idea if this is sound or not, but my whole life I’ve been pretty healthy in all systems besides my lungs.  When I get sick, it goes straight to my chest, and sometimes takes a really long time to clear up.

I took one day (yeah, one day) off of work and threw everything I could muster at this vile illness.  I started with herbs as my first line of defense – Wellness Formula, Osha root, vitamin C, zinc, and of course the neti pot with colloidal silver.  When that didn’t slow it down I began drinking massive, massive amounts of tea all day long.  I took Mucinex, Nyquil, Dayquil, and fought just to make it through a day of teaching high school (which to be fair has to be one of the worst occupations to fight through when you are sick).  I had a phone consult with a doctor, I went to see another doctor, and I finally Facebook’ed my doctor friend from college and begged her for antibiotics.  A single Z-pack cleared it up a little bit, chased down with a foul concoction of ginger, lemon, garlic, and cayenne tea, but it still wasn’t gone.  I was literally reduced to tears in my living room multiple times, screaming at the walls (and my poor wife) that I was ready to feel better.

Part of the arsenal

Everyone I talked to – friends, doctors, said wife – all gave me the same sage advice.  You need to rest, they said.  Like really rest.  Take it easy.  Stay inside.  Don’t run.  Sleep.

Don’t they know that they might as well have been telling me to land on the moon?  Resting is one of the hardest things for us ultra-runners to do!!!  We run on adrenaline, thrive on endorphins, sleep only when we wear our bodies out so much that they collapse.  We can’t rest in normal life!

And yet, I was knocked down harder than I had been in a long time.  A perfect storm of stress at work, stress in my family life, and running harder and harder workouts had finally caught up to me.  My body was raising the white flag and I was the last one to see it.

So, in a moment of weakness, I concluded that I needed to take some time off.  My Physical Therapist had been telling me that I needed 2-3 solid weeks off at some point in the next year, and I was already about a week into it.  I convinced myself that I would take another week off, still be in shape to run the Berkeley Half Marathon that I had signed up for, and spring back for the December race lineup stronger than ever.

And then a funny thing occurred – I loved the time off that I had been so scared to take.  The physical benefits were not immediate.  The first 2 weeks were full of sore muscles, sore bones, sore feet in the morning, and a back that spasmed out just lying there in bed.  But the physical side of things soon simmered down and the mental clarity became outstanding.  Instead of having that nagging voice constantly in my head, harping at me to run sooner or run farther, I had a calm voice that took over and told me to spend time with my family and sleep in on the weekend (guilt free!)  In short, I remembered what it was like to live like a “normal person” not chained to a training schedule or weekly mileage progression.  I’m not saying I want to make a full time conversion, but I will say that I have fully enjoyed the freedom I have taken this month.

What is this rest you speak of?

It’s not like I’ve turned into a couch potato of course.  I’ve kept up with my diet of eating healthy and limiting sugar, dairy, and gluten, and staying alcohol free.  I’ve ridden my bike to work every day.  I’ve stretched and done a bit of yoga every single night.  I’ve continued to do my PT exercises two times per week, and I’ve rubbed, massaged, and rolled every muscle in my legs deeper than I have in my whole life.  At four weeks in my calves finally began to release.  I noticed this when I could suddenly stand, barefoot, without bending or turning to take weight off my aching heels or feet.  I’ve been raising them up every night to drain fluids and the long-term swelling in my calves has noticeable lessened.

Sure, I’ve had a few moments where I nearly went crazy and almost bolted out of the house for a run, but every single time they have been overshadowed by the voice in my head that knows I am listening to my own body.  I’ve been running strong for 3 full years with no extended break longer than a couple of weeks.  I’m lucky if I take a few days off after a 50k.  Despite having the best intentions, I’m confident I have been a bit over-trained.

My foam roller has been my new best friend

What’s next?  I’m going to keep running and I’m going to keep listening to my body in a way I did not before.  I’m using January 1st as the official start for next year’s season – I’ve signed up for the Canyons 100k again at the end of April – and am going to give myself leeway to run a bit before then if it feels good and take time off if rest feels better.  I’m going to enjoy the holiday season and my time off with my family and not feel guilty for not hitting the trails.  I know I will have lost some fitness but I am confident that I will come be able to build a base and come back stronger than before, mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I’m excited to hit the trails again, see my friends again, and push my body to new limits again in the beauty of nature.  And I’m excited to know that my body has been recharged in exactly the way it needed to happen.

Rest, they said.  And I finally listened.


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