Time off. Yikes. For many runners (and perhaps everyone around them), this can be a scary time. After all, running is a feel-good drug; it’s how you let off steam; it’s how you stay fit and healthy. Still, taking time off is just as important as the miles you log. But all off time isn’t created equal. If you want to maximize your recovery so that you can come back feeling strong and reenergized, you need a deliberate approach.
Take it from Elinor Fish, founder, and CEO of Run Wild Retreats, a company that offers healthy trail running and wellness retreats all over the globe. Fish has been a runner most of her life and yet, despite down time here and there, she reached a point when running was just exhausting.
“I was fit, but too worn out to use that fitness to run for fun, let alone race anymore,” recalls Fish. “That's when I learned how the stress from other parts of my life was making my body feel as though it was running a marathon a week, when in fact I was barely running at all.”
A light bulb went off. Fish realized that even though she was taking time off, she wasn’t spending any time relaxing and therefore wasn’t ever able to recover. “Realizing that my body responds to physical stress the same way it responds to emotional stress was eye-opening,” she says. “So, I embarked on a path of mindfulness to manage my stress better and rebuild my health.”
Today, Fish is running strong, maintaining balanced energy levels, and helping her clients do the same. It all started from learning how to—quite simply—rest. “Being idle isn't enough, especially if you're experiencing stress from other sources,” she says.
So how can you maximize your out-of-shoe time?
Hans Selye, the world’s pioneering stress researcher, explained that stress is neither good nor bad; it’s merely “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
So, from a physiological level, your body perceives both your hard Tuesday night track workout and your challenging conversation with your boss as similar stressors and therefore needs time to recover from both.
To build fitness, you have to give your body time to heal. Torn muscles repaired, inflammation quelled, hormones balanced, nutrients replenished. ... The list goes on.
“The relaxation response is a major physiological shift at the cellular level that supports all aspects of healing and recovery such as alleviating inflammation, decreasing stress hormones, slowing the heart rate, blood pressure and more,” says Fish. “But in this digital age of 24/7 access to emails, social media, and sensationalist news, it’s harder than ever to dial down the stress and truly relax. Plus, most of us don't get enough quality sleep, which also cuts down on the time the body has for healing.”
That brings us to number three.
In a recent post, we told you all about the importance of sleep. If you don’t get enough of it, you risk more than just lack of recovery. If ignored long term, you’re likely to experience metabolic and psychological disturbances like diabetes, memory loss, heart disease, and depression to name just a few.
The importance of breathing technique for overall health has long been common knowledge in the yoga world. Now we know on a physiological level how it works. How you breathe has a lasting impact on emotional response, recovery, your heart rate variability, even your memory.
Slow diaphragmatic breathing through the nostril (around six breaths a minute, so five-second inhales, and five-second exhales) is a calming breath because it drops you into your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system). According to Dr. Ashley Stewart, who specializes in psychophysiology and applied neuroscience, “Doing this while at rest trains flexibility in your system, it improves sleep, and it improves emotion regulation. All this decreases anxiety and increases alpha wave brain activity [linked to focused relaxation, or meditation].”
… So, close your computer, turn off your phone, and do something deeply relaxing. Your nervous system will thank you for it. And so will your spring running season.