Rest and recovery for the wicked

A little over a week ago, I ran my first marathon. That means I have entered the period known in fanatical exercise circles as “recovery.” Conventional wisdom here dictates that I refrain from distance running for two to three glorious weeks, thus allowing my body to fully recover from the ordeal of marathoning and, ideally, preventing injuries.

I have just finished my Zero Week, the week directly after a race, during which I was not to run at all. No problem! I don’t like running all that much, anyway. I relished not running in the 90-degree heat. I went for a few short hikes, walked the dog around town, and, my favorite, lolled around on the floor with my foam roller (and, occasionally, one of those Dove ice cream bars. Full fat version, please!).

For the next couple of weeks, it is my understanding that I am to slowly resume training again, preparing my quads and glutes for whatever fresh hell I’ve signed myself up for. I haven’t read this anywhere, but it is also my assumption that my body requires ample doses of carbs, presumably in my preferred forms of pasta, bread, and beer, for as long as I continue to crave them, which in my experience will be approximately indefinitely.

In theory, I love the idea of a recovery period. Self-care sounds nice and important. (“I am totally going to actually do that, this time,” I told myself.) I enjoy a) eating and b) being told I should engage only in light exercise c) because I have recently accomplished something (in that order).

After that first week, though, I find myself a little at loose ends.

I do not sign up and train for races because I enjoy running. I do it for the same reason I climb mountains and carry heavy backpacks and hike or bike long distances: because it’s hard.

I do it to push myself to my physical limits and see what’s left. I do it because most of the time my brain is telling me something along the lines of You’re not good enough and it’s a way to temporarily stave off Impostor Syndrome. I do it because I need a goal, a distraction, a thing to look forward to and simultaneously dread. Mostly, I do it because I’ve figured out the way to be the best me I can be is to just keep moving. (Literally!)

Once I’m finished with my Feat of Physical Stamina, I’m faced with the post-birthday blues, like my grade-school self after my roller skating party is over and the presents are opened and the cake has been eaten and everyone’s gone home and it isn’t my birthday anymore. For weeks or months, I’ve focused so much physical and emotional energy on the Big Event; once it’s behind me, there’s nothing to distract me from the other things going on in my life, like deadlines and taxes and looming existential dread.

So here I am, a week and a half post-marathon, having abandoned my usual training and my-body-is-a-temple (okay, more like, my-body-is-not-a-garbage-disposal) eating for ten days. I have completed the obligatory basking in the glow of my accomplishment and, to pass the time I usually spend exercising my brain into submission, am researching longer, probably much awful-er races. The novelty of resting has worn thin. I am antsy.

This week is, mentally, the hardest part of my recovery. (That this is a paradox does not escape me. But. Layers!) I will go for a couple of light jogs and do some cross-training. Most importantly, I will do my best to be present, which does not come naturally to me. I am going to rest my weary muscles and appreciate that I have the good health to allow to me to run 26.2 miles and, probably, eat half a pound of buttered noodles for lunch at some point. (I will have no trouble enjoying that last part.)

And when it gets tough, when I start to feel restless, I will remind myself that in a few weeks, when I’m back at it, when I’m halfway up some big hill and my legs and lungs would like very much to give out, I will long for my recovery period, so I’d better appreciate it while it lasts.

Until then, bring on the carbs.

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