Monday, April 4, 2016

Rest IS a four-letter word, though.

I get a lot of playful ribbing about how often I race ultras.  My friend Chris keeps talking about wanting to set up a GoFundMe campaign to pay for me to get professional help for what he calls my "problem."  I think that's pretty funny.  I just race a lot because racing is fun.  It's like regular running, but with food and water laid out so nicely every few miles, and lots of friends to chat with, and awards and stuff.  But lately I have been ever so slightly more amenable to the idea that more isn't always more.  Ever so slightly.

Truthfully, I don't see a problem with, say, doing 3 hours of hill repeats on a hill we call "The Beast" while wearing a 20-pound weight vest, and then heading straight to the gym for a strength training session.  Or coming to the gym six days in a row during a race week.  Or racing four 50-milers in 5 weeks.  But some people do, including my strength and conditioning coach.  For the sake of anonymity, let's call him Phil J.  No, that's too obvious.  We'll call him P. Janzen.  (Sorry, Simpsons reference.)*

Anyway, he's been insisting that sometimes less is more, and I should learn to relax and rest a bit.  He introduced me to this thing called Omegawave, which is a system that uses an ECG-type-deal to assess an athlete's cardiac readiness, calculate heart rate training zones, and basically tell you how hard you should push during your workout, or whether your body needs more rest and recovery time.  I love this thing.  I got one of my own, and I assess myself every day.  I really enjoy looking at the data on my smartphone and comparing each day's results to previous results.  Sometimes it's good news: I can go hard today!  And sometimes it's bad news:

One day, when the Omegawave told me I needed recovery time, Phil had me do something like an hour on the bike, keeping my heart rate under 120.  Then he had me re-do the Omegawave assessment, and my data had improved significantly.  That little experiment felt like a turning point for me.  It kind of clicked, that doing less (or doing less intensity) doesn't make you lazy and won't hinder your performance; on the contrary, it can actually lead to gains in fitness by improving your readiness for future workouts.

I guess that is how I've always felt (and, honestly, still feel in my heart of hearts): that when I'm tired, or sore, that means I'm weak, and I just need to work harder and do more.  So that's the paradigm shift I'm facing here.  It's a really big jump from that to the idea that I should "listen to my body," "take time to recover," "taper," etc.

Am I really changing my paradigm?  Well, I still don't see any problems with the activities I listed in paragraph two.  But at least I'm questioning my point of view more.  I think it helps to have data staring me in the face instead of just people's opinions (regardless of how expert those opinions may be).  And here's some evidence of a paradigm shift: I contemplated going swimming or doing a bikram yoga class tonight, but since it hurts to bend my knee since Saturday's race, I'm sitting here on my butt, writing a blog post instead.  Resting.  So, I'd say that is progress.

*He's a really good coach who knows his shit.  But but don't tell him I said that.  (You don't read these, Phil, do you?)  

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