Running is an all-encompassing activity. It is not just about getting out and shaking your legs at each other. It involves the food you eat as fuel, your heart and lungs, the dedication, perseverance, and motivation of your mind, your time, and the strength of your entire body. Part of the success of this whole body activity also involves the means to sustain it.
I have written about my Achilles tendinitis that had forced me to cut back my running volume. With it slowly improving, I was again side-tracked by a sudden bout of stomach flu. Most of my time was spent sleeping and I realized how this is such a natural way for the body to recover.
Running (like strength-training or being sick) is a process of stress and recovery. You force the body to do more than is normal and then allow it to recover. It is in that recovery that the body heals, stabilizes, and grows stronger.
Recovery – the techniques we can use to help speed up the body’s process of getting back to normal – can seem more common sense than high-tech science. General practices encourage us to drink more water, eat well, limit stress, and get a good night’s sleep.
Giving your body time to recover is key to improvement. People in training for longer distances find that initially their sleep quality improves as they train. Their bodies are comfortably fatigued and they fall asleep without a problem. Often their bodies are in such a balance that they find themselves needing less sleep. As the distances increase and the stress on their body increases, sleep needs increase: both in duration and quality. In this way, having regular naps helps the body speed up the process of recovery.
Ironically, we often do not have time to sleep more at night. Our bodies establish a regular cycle and our lives and responsibilities (including watching TV) interfere with increasing this sleep cycle. Having a nap, however, even as short as 10-20 minutes helps the body initiate the process of recovery and healing. (You may need to get your kids and partner on board with this one but when everyone sees how much happier you are they may encourage more than complain.)
Napping seems like something of a luxury; something we would all do if we had more time. But once we plan for and schedule a nap, another worry may be that we won’t actually be able to fall asleep. Much like running farther or faster, changing your diet, or lifting more weights, it may be something we need to learn. Our bodies may need to adjust and respond to the signals to relax and rest.
Stopping what we are doing does give our body a break, but real healing and recovery happens when we sleep. Using this as a strategy in our training may help with a faster PR; at very least you will feel better. Having a nap is one of the least-stressful and beneficial ways to help achieve success. It’s hard to say no to something that is so easy.
(Photo credit: stewickie), (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)