Popular belief has the number of words in the English language at about one million. According to the late comedian George Carlin, there are only 7 dirty words (sure there are more, but most are a variation on that 7), which even led to an official Supreme Court decision regarding words too racy to be aired on television. As most of you know, they are almost all four letter words. I would like to suggest another taboo word, which also happens to be four letters. It is feared and uttered with disgust by passionate runners of any speed, from the elites to the ones at the back of the pack. Often in a sentence handed down by someone with a clipboard, or a concerned loved one just trying to help, it could lead to an inflamed response that only escalates the tension.
The word I am speaking of is the dreaded term, ‘rest’. Sometimes it means to take time off, from days up to months. In other usage it can mean to scale back, in pace or effort. Some see this as a blessing and use it to the max, others as a curse, trying to circumvent or shorten the time of effect whenever possible. Some of us are lucky, never being actually ordered to rest, while others may have regular problems with injuries and forced to scale back often. The key is knowing when it is acceptable to work around it and when it is recommended to follow the order.
I am one that does not have a good relationship with the idea of rest. During my high school career, I was running year round and in the habit of taking two weeks off after the cross country and track seasons. This was recommended due to my age ( I was 13 when I started) and the fact that I was running doubles. At some point, two weeks became one week. Then none, but I do not recall when. For a couple of years I would take two weeks intermittently as I felt necessary. It has been a long time since I have felt the need to do that.
When ‘rest’ is a sentence handed down by a professional, such as a doctor, physical therapist, or other person with a similar title, it must be given a bit more weight. Even a more experienced runner can tell when their running buddy should take a break. Then it can come with a time limit, or be linked to a symptom such as an injury or sickness subsiding. It is hard to step back but there is no fighting the body when it is already stressed.
I have experienced three running injuries in my career, two during high school. One was a stress fracture and the other a pulled hamstring. I am equal parts proud and ashamed that I took the recommended break period and cut it in half as my personal decision when to hit the road again. Luckily, I had healed in that time. The most recent one is a recurring knee pain, not caused by running but sometimes aggravated by it. When it gets to a certain point I must heed the pain and acknowledge that I will do no good trying to push through it. It got to the point that I actually decided to take a week and half off to see if it would cease.
For most people, the ability to run is not overshadowed by a certain time. It is a sport that can be enjoyed throughout life. It makes sense to take the long view and realize that taking a week or two off, easing back on tempo for the day, or any other form of temporarily ceasing the current plan, is not the end of the world. Sometimes the body needs a break, and time to heal. Even if the break is long and you don’t come back stronger, with time and tenacity, chances are you can get right back to where you were. The key is patience and being aware of your limits. For those like myself who try to bulldoze those limits in pursuit of ever higher goals, understand when someone close to you sees you hitting that wall, and recommends a rest period, that they could be right.
To all of those who are competitive to a fault, try to listen to your body, or your friends when the time comes. Utter that cursed word, scale back the pace, or take time off if need be. There is always another day, another run, another race. It is better to run hard healthy, then run badly stubbornly.