Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I’m struggling with Lyme disease right now. I’m about halfway through my long course of antibiotics, and I am feeling much better. But I’m also getting frustrated at not being able to do all the things I want – like rock climb and run, and start training for my next race….
I have started running a little, but a couple experiences in the last week remind me of just how vital rest is, and of finding that balance of activity and rest. Last week I finally went back to my very early morning speed workout with my coach. I tried to take it easy – as much as possible in that very intense workout. I sat out on some of the repeats. It felt great to be there running again, but I did push too hard and I paid the price. My Lyme-y headache came back for the day, and I was completely exhausted. I wasn’t capable of doing anything productive the rest of the day.
So clearly, that was a little too intense for me at this stage.
Several days of active rest followed, and I was ready to run again. Sunday I needed to run some errands, so I ran them. It was about 8.5 miles to the library, bank, pharmacy and back home. I felt good for about 6 miles. Then, suddenly I felt completely spent. I had to walk much of the last 2 miles.
The experience reminded me of how I felt recovering from treatment. I remember feeling pretty good – thinking I was pretty much back to normal. I’d go out for a longer than usual ski or swim or hike, and feel great – until I didn’t. What was so difficult was that I felt like I had no backup. Normally, I’d get tired, get more tired, more tired – but there was always more reserve. After treatment, I was still exercising, but didn’t have that reserve as I got tired. I’d go from feeling fine to nothing left.
This is all just a way of saying, don’t underestimate what your body is going through. Whether it’s cancer treatment, serious injury, or some other disease, our bodies are handling a lot. If we want them to recover and regain strength, we have to allow them adequate rest.
But balance is important (remember that from the first paragraph?). Too much rest and our muscles continue to weaken. We end up feeling much worse and able to do much less. But push too hard, and we can exhaust ourselves and suffer setbacks.
So how to find that balance? There’s a lot of trial and error, but there are some guidelines. Don’t be afraid to push yourself a little. You want to feel like you’re doing something. Muscles get stronger by being stressed. They respond to the stress by building themselves up. So, you have to do enough activity so you’re making your body work. Not enough that you hurt yourself, but you should feel like you’re doing something.
Then, equally important to the exercise, is rest. You have to rest in order for your body to build up more strength. But rest doesn’t mean lying around on the couch all day. The best kind of rest is active rest. Move a little, nothing stressful – maybe go for a little walk, an easy bike ride, garden, or clean. You will recover faster and feel better sooner with lightly active recovery than total rest.
This really is as much a reminder to me as it is for you. Clearly, sometimes I’m better at giving good advice than I am at following what I already know! But the good news is that after a couple of workouts that were a bit too intense for me right now, and plenty of rest to recover, I do feel better. I went back to my early morning speed workout this morning. I did feel better and stronger. But I was also smarter about slowing up or taking a lap or 2 off when I needed (I can learn from my mistakes). It was still intense – always is – but I left feeling good, not exhausted.
I’m surprised at how hard this Lyme disease has hit me, but I know the principals that I learned during cancer treatment and recovering from treatment will help me get through this as well. We all have to respect our bodies, and respect what our bodies are going through. Part of respecting that is doing what we can to help our bodies recover. And that means rest when we need it, staying active, and finding that all important balance between pushing ourselves and taking it easy.