On Taking Downtime, and Downtime Taking Me
There was a moment in my collegiate running career when things were going well--by my standards at least.
It was track season and I had collected a few personal records, while also being more competitive in these races than I thought I could be. As an added bonus, my body was holding together even though I was running a bunch of high-intensity miles every week. It seemed that the hard work was paying off.
At some point in mid-season, I met with my coach intending to develop a plan to take the "next step." I was envisioning a surplus of more. More miles; more intervals; more speed. All I wanted the coach to do was to nod in agreement, to see my brilliance.
That, of course, didn't happen.
Instead, he prescribed less. Three days of downtime, he insisted, and then a gradual buildup to the end of the season. He assured me that resting at a high point would give me the best chance to finish strong.
I was skeptical, but he was right. Once I resumed my routine, I ended up having what was my best outdoor season.
Downtime. It's something that every runner knows they need. But doing it consistently and intentionally is a trick. Runners, after all, like to run. Hitting the pause button makes no sense. Why wouldn't we want to do this every day, with our fullest efforts?
Alas, constant stress without deliberate recovery is a sure path to destruction. Injury, burnout, and fatigue are the ways that our bodies force us to rest. I am still struggling to be mindful of this reality. I remain the runner who wants to press on when things are going well, rather than stepping back, reflecting, and seeing the bigger picture.
As with most things, I find a parallel with this lesson from running and my professional life.
Earlier this week, I finished grading finals, thus marking the glorious end to my semester. My intention was to dive deeply into my writing and research. I determined that I needed to get a good start on my summer projects.
But then, life intervened and I got sick with a stomach bug. Rest was forced upon me. Of course, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that my illness was a matter of chance. It just happened.
All of this stands as a reminder that when we don't take some much-needed downtime, the downtime will take us--whether we like it or not.
Happy trails, friends.