When To Run And When To Rest

As runners it’s easy to thrive on the times when we have a strong and consistent desire to get out the door and go for a run. Sometimes running comes naturally, and the more we run, the more we want to run.


To some degree I think this is what all runners are seeking. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of itching to get out the door on a run every day. I have had many long stretches like this in my life, and have taken great satisfaction every time I’m in this mindset.

What about the opposite though? What about those times when every run seems like a challenge, and just stepping out the door to run for 15 minutes feels nearly impossible? Obviously, no runner would seek out this kind of mindset, but over time I have come to believe that we can respond in a way that can make these situations a lot better than they otherwise might be.

I think there are different levels of not wanting to go for a run. Sometimes we might just have a lot going on, we might be having a bad day, or we’re simply uninspired by our running options in a particular location. In these cases of “shallow disinterest,” I think the best remedy is to simply put on shoes and force yourself out the door, even if just for 15 or 20 minutes. It’s amazing what a two- or three-mile run can do to boost your interest in running and to bring everything else into balance.

I have also had hundreds of times in which I’ve felt like I was too tired (physically and/or emotionally) to go for a run, but after forcing myself out the door for a short run, I felt energetic and excited within minutes. Sometimes all we are lacking to feel interested in running is the quick burst of endorphins we get once we start.

Contrary to this though, there are the times of “deep disinterest.” These can be a lot harder to recognize, and even harder to accept. It’s easy to think that if we just get out the door and go for a run that we will feel better for having done so, and over the course of several days we will no longer have these feelings of not wanting to go for a run.

Sometimes this is the case, but other times we are experiencing this disinterest not because we are simply out of shape or because we are having a bad day, but because on a much deeper and significant level we need a break from the physical and/or emotional stresses of running. Again, it can be really hard to know when this is the case, but I do feel like over time I have come to understand more and more when this is what I need.

I think one of the biggest indicators of needing to take time off is when you force yourself out the door for a run and then feel no better, or even worse (physically and/or emotionally) when you finish. With shallow disinterest you will usually feel better for having gotten out the door, whereas with this deep disinterest you will typically feel worse for having done so.

Another indicator is if you notice that your mind and/or body doesn’t feel any better or any more excited about running after you take a rest day, or several rest days. In other words, if you take it easy for a period of time and this doesn’t result in renewed mental and physical energy, then it is almost certainly an indication that you need to take even more time off.

I have been experiencing one of these deeper phases of disinterest for the past several weeks, but one thing that I’ve noticed this time is that I have not been fighting it. I have accepted it for what it is. I would almost go so far as to say that I have embraced it for what it is — an opportunity to rejuvenate my mind and body.

I think this is the most important thing to learn to do when encountering one of these phases of deeper disinterest. First, as described above, we need to be able to recognize when this is the case, but more than just recognizing it we need to learn to be able to accept it and work with it, as opposed to trying to fight it.

I have been working through chronic health issues that have compromised my running for three years now. I feel significantly better now than I did for the first year, but it is still something that affects me every day. In many ways I think this experience has helped me to have a greater ability to recognize when I need a break, and to not fight it. I was essentially forced by my health to not run for a year. It took me a long time, but eventually I came to accept this reality, and every time I moved closer to this acceptance I noticed that my health (physically and emotionally) would improve measurably in the days and weeks to follow.

Now, I feel like I have a much better understanding of when to force myself out the door and when to stay inside and put my energy into something else.

I’ve gone running fewer than 10 times in the last five weeks. For most of my running career I would have looked at this as a bad thing, as though there must clearly be something wrong with me. Now I don’t see an unexpected break like this as a problem. A month or two from now I will be in a much better place than I would be had I been running every day for the past several weeks.

Certainly this can all be hard to recognize and to respond to properly, but I highly recommend that any runner try to pay attention to their mind and body when they seem disinterested in running.

If you track this for awhile you will notice there are times when this is not a big deal and there are other times when it is a much larger deal. If you can learn to recognize these differences and accept all of it as a necessary (and beneficial) part of your running, you will greatly increase your potential as a runner going forward.

• Geoff Roes lives and runs trails in Juneau. He has run more than 40 mountain, ultra and trail running races all over the world – winning the majority of them. He is the founder and director of the Juneau-based Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp. He can be reached at grroes@yahoo.com and more of his insights can be found on his personal website www.akrunning.blogspot.com. He is also a regular contributor at www.irunfar.com.


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