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Running and the Art of Rest

This morning, sleeping in was an act of rebellion.

I took a rest day today. I woke to an unfamiliar light in my bedroom leaking through my so-called black-out curtains. A little bewildered, I glanced at my phone on the nightstand; it read 7:55 am. Wow, I actually slept in. My husband, Nick, rolled over and embraced me, nuzzling his head into my shoulder. He let out an audible sigh before stretching his body and opening his eyes slightly to meet mine. Lacking motivation to get myself out of bed, I did what any normal human would do. I went back to sleep.

Most weekday mornings, Nick and I usually wake up a little before 6:00 am. We both work East Coast hours from home, which is convenient because we can still make it out for a run or ski tour after work before it’s completely dark — especially important during these current winter months. Unfortunately, we very rarely sleep in on the weekends either. When we lived in Florida, we trudged out of bed early to get our weekend long runs in before the heat and humidity grew too unbearable. Recently, we’ve needed to wake at 6 am or earlier to avoid the horrendous ski traffic here on the Wasatch Front. Even without taking into account the early mornings, my days have lately felt overwhelming. Running started to seem like a chore, and I found myself wanting to describe each run as a “slogfest” on Strava.

I’ve been battling the art of rest for several years now. Being surrounded by mountain athletes who never seem to take a day off isn’t always the best environment when trying to listen to your body’s warning signs. Fatigue frequently takes a backseat to FOMO. Everyone else can muster the energy to go for a 15-mile trail run. Everyone else is able to fit in their tempo run after a full day of skiing. Everyone else is out there running in a blizzard. Why can’t I?

So it was somewhat serendipitous when I happened to turn on the Ezra Klein Show during one of my most recent “slogs.” The podcast episode was titled, “Sabbath and the Art of Rest.” I am not religious, nor am I particularly familiar with the Jewish Sabbath or Shabbat, but I think my mind was yearning for some type of logical reason that I should maybe pump the breaks. “The Art of Rest” seemed like it might check that box. So I pressed play.

The episode consisted of Ezra Klein interviewing Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. The pair discussed Sabbath, the role of structured rest in our modern world, and the importance for communities to be at the center of any Sabbath undertaking. I found the last point particularly interesting. In the podcast, Judith stresses that unless communities are set up in a way to support rest, the act of taking a break starts to resemble work. Shulevitz states,

“I can’t do it until I become part of a community that does it, that makes rest something pleasurable, that makes it festive. So one of the ways I like to define Shabbat or the Sabbath […] is that it’s a […] program for creating community and social cohesion.”

I wondered about my own community. I moved to Salt Lake City from Florida in pursuit of a more outdoor-focused and balanced lifestyle. Most of the friends I have made here share a similar value of making sure their work is a way to support play; however, this can occasionally have negative consequences too. When everyone is doing something epic all the time, that precious playtime can begin to feel draining. When scrolling through Strava, one can feel as if they are on display; I certainly did. I judged and was judged. Worst of all, I experienced anger at my body for not keeping up. I lacked compassion for others and for myself. After my run, Ezra and Judith’s conversation reverberated through my mind. How can I create systems to incorporate deliberate rest? Can rest be revolutionary?

So this morning, sleeping in was an act of rebellion. There would be no running, no skiing — only sumptuous rest. I specifically did not want to rest just to recharge either. Recharging seemed beside the point as this implies preparation for more work. I just wanted to rest. I wanted to luxuriate in a day spent in comfortable pants and a sweatshirt, to moisturize my face with my thick lavender mask, to read and write and think about things without them having any consequence to anything else I have going on, to not run.

As wonderful as today was, I still am curious how we as a running and athletic community can create systems to support one another in prioritizing rest. I frequently hear the benefits of deliberate rest on training podcasts, in magazine articles, and from prominent coaches, but I have doubts that it’s fully integrated in the running community’s ethos. I think we all still place that resilient person who can train through sickness and injury on a pedestal, or only prioritize rest as a way to enhance our own training. Why can’t we just rest? Ezra Klein quotes this line from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath:

“Man is not a beast of burden and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work.”

I recently saw an Instagram post from widely popular fitness influencer, Natacha Oceane, which explained to her 1 million followers that she had taken the last eight weeks off from exercise completely. She says, “…I don’t ever want to see moving as a chore.” Initially, I felt a wave of anxiety ripple through me while reading this post. I couldn’t even imagine what my friends would think if I took eight weeks off from exercise completely, let alone just running. However, seeing this post was inspiring. If this woman, with seemingly an entire world watching, can be honest about her body and mind’s needs, what’s stopping us from embracing this concept?

Perhaps, I will carry this new restful ethos with me in the future, or at least try to set up systems in advance to allow for these blissful days to occur. But in all honesty, I will probably be battling this idea of rest for the remainder of my athletic endeavors. In the meantime, I’ll cocoon myself under my big sherpa blanket, turn on a good movie, and watch the snow fall outside.

*This essay was originally published by Runner's Life on Medium


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