The Wind Strengthens the Tree Only After It Stops Blowing

I’ve just finished one of the heaviest training weeks I’ve had so far this marathon cycle:  just over 80 miles.  I’ve reached this barrier before while preparing for other marathons, so I’m not celebrating too much, but it’s time to take a step back.

Yes, instead of continuing to build the quality and quantity of my runs each and every week, I’m purposely cutting back for a week.

Research shows that intentionally dropping mileage for a week during the 10-12 week marathon specific period not only does not hurt your progress, but it leads to growth.

It seems so counterintuitive to build, step back, build, step back.  Our minds want progress to be linear.  We should simply build and grow in a nice smooth arching line upwards.

The logical way to build endurance should be like building a house out of Legos.  You start with the foundation, add some walls, then a roof, and you’re done.  One step after another.  Relentless forward progress until the house is built.

But that’s not how growth in living things work.

We are more like a tree in a windstorm.  As our tree sways back and forth in the wind of hard training, intense cellular damage is taking place in the trunk and in the branches.  The tree is being pushed farther than it is used to going so it stretches and bends and tears a little.

After the storm passes and the winds become calm, the tree repairs itself, builds stronger cell walls, and becomes even more resilient to withstand the next storm.

Yet, if the wind is unrelenting, blowing day in and day out, the tree has no chance to repair the damage and get stronger.

It will break.

So tomorrow I’ll skip my run and rest.  I don’t feel especially tired or worn out, but my long run today was not the quality run it should have been.

Missing splits is often a sign that you need to rest, instead of continuing to push and train harder.

How much should you drop down for an easy week?  Well, that’s a bit subjective.  Many experienced athletes many only need 10-20%, while those venturing into new territory of distance and/or intensity should probably aim closer to 30%.

I’m planning for about 20%.  Maybe I’ll take a bit more than that if I need it.

I admit that dropping that much when I know I can handle another 80 mile week hurts my ego a little.  It plays on my fears that I’m not doing absolutely everything I can to get better.

But ironically, there is a freedom in restraint.  I know that resting and cutting back on mileage is a training strategy for improvement, not a sign that I’m not fit enough or not working hard enough.

I’m simply taking some time to prepare for a hurricane.

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