The fall road racing season is winding down, and there are thousands of runners across America struggling to find purpose in their runs. Even runners who nailed their goals and completed epic races are left feeling empty this time of year. It's the morning after the big party, and it's time to clean up the house.
Earlier this month, I found myself sitting in the backseat of a sleek, black, late-model Lincoln Navigator with Gwen Jorgensen. Gwen is the current 2014 World Triathlon Series World Champion and was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. We were navigating through the early morning streets of the Upper West Side on our way to Central Park where we would join Coach Andrew Kastor and other elite runners from the ASICS team for an easy shakeout run prior to the 2014 TCS NYC Marathon.
Considering that she's a model, an athlete, and a celebrity, Gwen is surprisingly humble and down-to-earth. She exudes the friendly, no bulls--t attitude that comes from growing up in Wisconsin. I asked her about her training and how she stays healthy with such a rigorous racing schedule.
She told me that triathlon training is tough and the racing season is grueling. No surprises there. But, what did surprise me is her emphasis on rest. Complete and total rest for a period of one month. No scheduled workouts, no expectations, and no pressure.
As we made our way past Columbus Circle and into Central Park, I found myself chatting and running alongside Andy Potts. Andy is also a former U.S. Olympic team member, and he was the 2007 Ironman World Champion. He's a friendly guy with a great sense of humor and a quick smile. As we sauntered through the park at an easy 10-minute pace we talked about the importance of mental focus.
Potts said when goes to an event to compete, he's 100 percent competitive as soon as he walks off the plane. If he's there to meet people and represent ASICS, then he makes as many friends as possible and helps in any way that he can. Whatever he does, he does it to the very best of his ability. That includes taking time off from the sport he loves.
Athletes at every level can benefit from taking a break. "If you train year-round in your sport, you don't do as well as if you take two to six weeks off," said Dr. Doug Graham, who coaches elite track and field athletes and who founded FoodnSport. It's not uncommon for athletes to gain 5 to 10 pounds during their rest period. DeeDee Trotter, Olympic gold medalist in the 4x400m relay says, "You tell yourself no 100 times a day" during the season. "For eight weeks, say yes."
Greg MacMillan, of McMillan Running, says, "Today, far too many are simply finishing one race (often a marathon) and immediately starting to train for the next one." The wear and tear of training effects both body and mind. Even the immune system and the hormonal system become compromised after months of hard training.
But what about your fitness level? Are you going to lose some of your speed and endurance? Yes, but that's okay. You'll get it back quickly. And the benefits far outweigh the temporary loss of fitness.
It's tough to stop. Says Lauren Fleshman, former U.S. 5000m champion, "If you're like me, during your break you'll be a little depressed from missing the endorphins, but you'll miss the hell out of running and will be chomping at the bit to get back."
So, stop and rest. Reflect on all the wonderful things you accomplished in 2014 and dream big for 2015. You'll come back to running feeling refreshed and full of passion for the sport that you love.