I had one of those days at work last week that simply cried out for a run as a form of physical release. But my schedule had two lovely words, "rest day," marked down. And this wasn't one of those "active rest" days, either. This was a "no workout for you, sir..." kind of "rest day."
But what was I to do about the otherwise seemingly-rational mental side of me? Darn it, my brain was all in for the idea of doing four or five miles, even if it wasn't going to do my tendons a bit of good. I wrestled with all of the possible alternatives. I could row or hit the elliptical trainer but I knew I'd either push harder than my ankles would find prudent, or I'd hear the siren song of the treadmill calling me to do "just a few miles."
So, rather than lash myself like Homer's Odysseus, not to a mast, but rather to my dog for a second 600-meter stroll around the park in front of my house...yeah, that would certainly take the edge off of going for a workout...I lay down for a 60-minute nap, waking not long after my wife returned home from her day at work.
There are several things the obsessive-compulsive runner can do to help themselves on those rare days when they decide to leave the calendar blank. Trust me obsessive-compulsives: The world will NOT come to an end, etc., should there be a blank space in your training calendar.
Some folks might recommend doing a stretching routine; I'm afraid that unless the routine is along the lines of what physical therapist Phil Wharton recommends to runners, an active isolated approach, that the tendency would be to over-stretch. Massage would also be great; what better than to take a half-hour or an hour of your life and place it into the hands of someone else? There can be too much of a good thing, and I'm not certain I could deal with even the expense of a gentle massage more than once a week...probably closer to maybe once every couple of weeks, right around pay day would be better.
What's the nice thing about napping? My wife, Suzanne, would consider it one of the least-expensive of guilty pleasures. It's the first therapeutic modality I go to when I'm feeling ill or beat-down. Nothing like an extra hour or two of good horizontal time per week, if you can stand it.
The Mayo Clinic says that a healthy adult will be more relaxed, less fatigued, more alert, and in a better mood as a result of a conservative nap routine. Oh, and let's not forget better memory (did I just say THAT?), less confusion, quicker reaction times, and fewer mistakes on the job. Okay, I'm not so certain my employer will tolerate a mid-day siesta, but we'll continue to push for it.
The naps need to be pretty brief, though - perhaps 30 minutes...an hour at most. I've hit the rack with the plan of going night-night for no more than an hour...next thing I knew it was way past dark. So much for the benefits of a good nap; now I'm staggering around in the kitchen looking for the dog's food. And, next thing I know, I'm sitting up watching Japanese anime cartoons at two in the morning because I got too much rest earlier in the day. So, a little dab'll do you.
Mayo' researchers say the best time for a nap is usually midafternoon, around 2 or 3 p.m. This is the time of day when you might experience post-lunch sleepiness or a lower level of alertness. I've known people who could sleep almost anywhere, and at any time. But a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions is best. I've learned to love my new smartphone because of its alarm functions; there's a "smart alarm" which begins to play soothing music at a low volume for a desired period of time (5-to-15 minutes), after which the alarm goes off. I use a gentle alarm noise, too, so that I'm not too shocked. A friend of mine has decided to purchase a wireless sleep and activity tracker, known as "Fitbit," that looks not only at how much sleep you're getting, but also the quality. We know that disrupted sleep patterns and inhibited recovery can be a reinforcing cycle, but that topic might have to be approached at a later date.
Don't forget to give yourself a few minutes after you get back up to, well, get back up. Especially important for those folks who need to respond quickly to stuff once the nap is over.
Naturally, the trial-and-error approach is always best to figure out whether you need a regular "eyeball light leak check" added to your training schedule, and how much. If you're in the midst of an increase in training volume (mileage, intensity, duration) your body might want a little additional rest as part of the adaptation process.