To Rest or Not to Rest? That is the Question.

Last week, I decided to switch my running route up a bit to keep things fresh. I opted to stick to Central Park, but rather than run up West Drive next to the lake, I moved into the garden area just north of that. Much more narrow than West Drive, there is a multitude of meandering paths that criss-cross over each other as you run. Gorgeous trees provide a cool shade but the countless hills pushed my calves to the absolute limit.

As my legs were screaming, I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving. I passed by bewildered tourists staring at me as I weaved around birdwatchers, playful toddlers, and other joggers. Just as I saw the path break before me into open road, I felt my ankle roll unnaturally and I fell to the ground. I felt my ankle go limp and I knew I had paid the price for forgetting my form, even if it was just for an instant.

Immediately, I began wondering when I might be able to get back out here to run again. Rest is vital to recovery, but I didn’t want to fall out of my rhythm, or take any longer than necessary to get back to my routine. In a previous post, I extolled the benefits of rest and how it can be absolutely integral to recovery. Yet, I also feel there is a balance to be struck between recovery and losing the gains I have worked so hard to attain.

Too much rest can get in the way, especially if it’s not a serious injury like a mildly rolled ankle. Fortunately, I came across this article noting that one does not need to stop exercising completely if they have been injured. While a period of rest from a specific routine is suggested, one does not need to stop all exercise entirely.

Apparently, Michael Wardian, a professional runner, “had multiple pelvic stress fractures and sports hernias,” but rather than spend his time lying on the couch, he rode a bicycle. He hiked across the mountainside. He aqua-jogged and swam his way back to health; and he’s not the only one.

Many athletes across all ends of the spectrum strive to remain as active as possible regardless injuries. Whereas before painkillers and numbing agents were the go-to’s of rehabilitation, experts have now realized that cross-training could very well be the answer to retaining fitness even after having suffered an injury. That said, there are several guidelines for working out while injured:

Know your body.

If, while cross-training, you experience any pain whatsoever, you should stop immediately. Talk to your doctor to ensure you are not worsening any physical issues. To overextend yourself is to extend your injury. Also, while painkillers, especially in this scenario, may seem like a viable alternative, you should remember that pain is important. It keeps you aware of your body’s health, and informs you if you are pushing things too far.

Figure out how you hurt yourself to begin with.

Recurring injuries are common because all-too-often we don’t realize why we hurt ourselves in the first place. If we are able to figure out why we hurt ourselves, we will be able to prevent the same mistake in the future. While physical therapy can certainly heal current issues, it cannot make you avoid them outright. So, pay attention to what caused your injury, and make sure you are able to avoid the mistake down the road.

Eat well.

Many athletes eat less and reduce their calories to avoid gaining weight during recovery, this is not necessarily the right course of action. In fact, if you lessen your nutrient intake, you could be extending your recovery time. Truthfully, the best idea is to balance your diet with your workout routine. If you are able to consistently exercise by cross-training, you shouldn’t have to alter your diet at all. However, if you are forced to cut back a little, you should only reduce your diet slightly. Make sure that just because you’re not exercising as much as usual, you don’t overcompensate by reducing your food intake too much.

The need for rest changes dynamically depending on the circumstance and severity of the injury. I suppose the best way to approach rest is to understand the nature of your injury, and then that way, you can properly assess the best course of action moving forward, whether that means no exercise whatsoever, or exercise that does not exasperate the sensitive area.

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

Cognitive Benefits of Running

It is nice to change things up a bit. When I run outdoors I’m usually accompanied by throngs of runners as we circle the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. It’s close to my apartment and it’s a quick 1.3 mile run if I need to build up some energy before I go into the office. Today I happen to be in Florida….finally…..outdoor weather above 50 degrees…..and it’s relaxing to have a little solitude…but as I ran by what seemed to be endless channels of lakes I had a discomforting thought “If an alligator exited these waters and came after me, could I beat it?” I smiled at a security guard when I ran by his post and thought “Well….if I couldn’t beat it, I could certainly beat the guard….and that would buy me some time” ☺

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental
Ten years ago I would not have been so confident….not about the guard of course…but about my own running ability. I was never the athletic type. For me, sprinting involved running from my current bar to the next bar. This all changed in 2003 when my girlfriend at the time, a photographer, told me over drinks she needed a male model for her Banana Republic photo shoot. I of course volunteered, but to my horror she unhesitatingly replied “Baby, I love you but have you seen your belly?”
That night I didn’t sprint to the next bar. I went home instead to absorb the humiliation alone. I felt embarrassed. I felt undesirable. Then I decided to fight back. I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul. If I did not want to feel this way then I had to do something about it!

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

The next day I walked past Banana Republic on 86th street and went into Equinox on 85th street. I paid for a one-year membership in advance to limit any chance I might try to back out and then I got to work. At first I tired easily. Within twelve minutes I was breathless and I felt foolish for even trying to be the next Asafa Powell. But then it occurred to me that all the other people at the gym had to start somewhere. They were not instant athletes. I had just seen a Star Trek episode where even Data was beaten at Stratagema until he figured out the right approach….so I had to figure out what all these other people knew that I did not.
Over the course of the next year I sprained my ankle, broke 3 toe-nails and hurt my neck, but that taught me the importance of proper shoes and I looked at the posture of others around me to learn proper form which would allow me not to tire so easily. I chose equipment near the mirror in order to analyze my form so that I could adjust it to that of others in the gym who were exhibiting superior performance. Ultimately, the belly fat went away but by then my mind (and my aspirations) were on a higher plane. The true benefit of the experience was not the weight loss, but the discipline that had been instilled in me to bring about that weight loss. I had started running thinking of it purely as a physical challenge but it is in fact a mental challenge. I am reminded of people who walk on hot coals. For years, they have said the same thing; training their minds was the key to their success.

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

As running is now a permanent part of my life I have bolstered my gym routine with an educational component, so I am always reading about new methods and watching videos in an attempt to improve my own technique. I came across a Forbes article a couple of years ago “How Exercise Makes Your Brain Grow” which details running’s substantiated effect on “neurogenesis.” Neurogenesis refers to the brain’s ability to generate new cells. What’s more is that neurogenesis is prominently associated with endurance exercise (such as jogging). While the exact reasons behind this association is not known, evidence of the correlation exists. To elaborate, it has been demonstrated that “exercise stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5 which is released into our blood as we sweat.” Eventually, this increased presence of FNDC5 facilitates and incites additional production of BDNF, another protein. It is this BDNF that is in turn responsible for supplementary production of “new nerves and synapses-the connection points between nerves.”

Effectively, when you run, your brain becomes stronger and quite literally grows. Your capacity for memory and affinity for learning increase to a noticeable degree. So, not only does your lung capacity increase and your heart’s resilience improve, but you receive added psychological benefits as well. Besides a tangible improvement in one’s health, running provides quantifiable mental enrichment that improves one’s quality of life both personally and professionally. While we are on the topic of brain functionality I thought some of you might like to watch this video. It’s not about running but it’s an artistic visualization of brain activity that you may find interesting.

It’s funny how one former girlfriend (yes, former) hurting my feelings has led to a lifelong love affair with running. I feel better, look hotter, and think smarter. What was a step back over ten years ago has become a 100-pace leap forward. Every runner has a story. This is mine. I suppose all I can say to my girlfriend of 2003 is, “Thank you.”