The Power of Routine, and the Importance of Breaking It

Last week was a recovery week for me. I ran my first 50 mile race the weekend prior and even though I came away relatively unscathed, my coach wanted to make sure my body had time to fully recover before diving into the next training cycle. I have a couple months before before my next goal race, so why not take the extra time to recharge both my body and my mind. I slept in until 7 every day and ate anything and everything I wanted. I imbibed the weekday beers and wine I had given up in training and I ran a total of 11 miles spread out over 3 runs. This might sound like a normal week to most people, and I bet many of my non-ultrarunner friends would be ecstatic with that mileage, but as anyone who has trained for an endurance event knows, this kind of week is the exception, not the rule.

My typical training routine has quite a lot variability but a few things remain pretty consistent: Tuesday through Saturday I get up in the 4:00 – 5:00 range, have coffee while doing my pre-run PT exercises and do my run for the day. Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be workout days which are followed by a strength session at the gym. I work from 8:30 ish – 5:30 ish, go home, eat dinner, watch a show or read and go to bed around 9. Thrilling I know. I rarely drink during the week, and I rarely go to social events during the week. If I do, I make sure to get home in time to be in bed by 9 which isn’t too hard since most of my social circle follow a similar routine for similar reasons. It took me a while to transition to this schedule and while getting up in the dark can be difficult sometimes, I have found myself to be much happier, filled with more energy and enjoy more fulfillment with my daily life with this routine. This kind of routine enables me to achieve the kind of training necessary to push my physical and mental limits in the endurance events I enjoy.

While I value the benefits of this kind of structure, I have found that breaking the rules is also important for both mental and physical health. If one becomes too rigid and too set in a routine, they run the risk of missing out on things that might enhance their quality of life and their enjoyment. This is why, when I woke up last Tuesday morning because light was coming in my window and not because I was jolted awake by a harsh alarm, I had a smile on my face. My only responsibility that day was to go to work. I didn’t have to run, I didn’t have to plan any meals, I didn’t have a post-work strength session to go to. On my way to work I treated myself to an iced coffee and a Mochi muffin. At lunch I got the extra Korean beef taco and in the evening I sat in my PJs watching Breaking Bad, drinking a glass of wine and eating takeout Chinese food knowing that I could wake up to the sun again the next morning. Glory!

By Thursday, I was starting to feel a bit slovenly but my legs were still tired. By Saturday, when I couldn’t do my usual post flight shakeout, I was feeling stiff and bloated, but my legs still didn’t want to move very fast. By Monday, I was positively cranky and out of sorts. But you now what happened when I kick-started my routine on Tuesday? I was so ready to get back into it that I took a minute/mile off my usual easy pace without even noticing. My legs were fresh, my mind was focused and all I wanted was a salad and smoothie. I’m starting this next training block feeling rejuvenated and excited to do the work instead of slightly worn down and a little beat up.

All this to say thank you to coach Mario for making me take a full recovery week and that in fact yes, stress + rest = growth. And also sorry to my husband for being so difficult on Monday.  I have had 3 great runs since then and am back to my chipper, happy self.

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