On Running and Rest (from the Archives)

I ran across this post on FB memories--it was posted to the now-inactive Sabbath in the Suburbs blog four years ago. Enjoy! ~


I’ve been running for some 18 months now. Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from being someone who runs to being a runner. I now read about running, strategize my routes, have strong opinions about my footwear, blah blah blah.

I also seek inspiration from running and its connections to life, and even to the spiritual practice of taking time for rest and sabbath. See if you agree about the power of these connections in a quote I ran across recently:

For some messed-up reason, our athletic egos still feel that we only get faster as we pedal harder, run quicker and swim stronger. It’s athlete psychology—all of our confidence is built around the times that we actually destroy our bodies. But it’s only the rest afterward that makes our bodies stronger.

Because of this psychological dichotomy, when and how long to rest is the hardest decision to make as an athlete. It takes a level of confidence above even the level necessary to push your body to the limit. You don’t get the endorphin release, the feeling of accomplishment, and the external and internal praise and satisfaction. All you get are feelings of losing your edge, getting out of shape and nervous anticipation.

So the next time you need to rest, whether it be for a mid-season break, post-big race, or just an easy day or two between training blocks, remember that it takes confidence to rest. Remember that it is just insecurity and a lack of endorphin release that makes you feel like you’re getting out of shape. Know that when you decide to rest, you’re making the right call—the better, smarter decision. Feel good and confident about it. You’ve done yourself a favor—you have literally just made yourself a better athlete.

-Jesse Thomas, Professional Triathlete & CEO of Picky Bars, originally read on Gibson’s Daily Running Quotes on Facebook

Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt. Sit Your Butt.

15584178143_897c19d0fe_z You'd think a woman who wrote an entire book about Sabbath would be sanguine about the need for rest.

You'd be wrong.

And if you read the book, you know it was a constant struggle for me to embrace this work/rest rhythm. It still is.

I've been laid up for the last several days with a running injury. About 10 days ago I noticed a nagging tightness along the inside of my left shin. I rested for three days and tested it with a run--pain returned. Three more days of rest, then a run--pain again.

It's a busy fall for races. I'm supposed to run the Ragnar Relay with my Steeple Chasers in early October, then the Marine Corps Marathon with my brother at the end of that month. My other brother is coming to town that weekend for the 10K, which Robert is also running. Robert's sister will be in town. MY sister will be in town. It's a whole thing, you see. I don't have time for an injury. I'm very, very busy. Booked.

But... this pain.

So I decided to go to the orthopedist last Friday, who took an X-ray and referred me for an MRI. I'll meet with him tomorrow to find out the MRI results, but we're hoping to rule out a tibial stress fracture. The X-ray looked fine, but these things are tricky. The MRI will show whether I have a fracture or was headed for one. With this kind of injury, there are early signs--swelling in the vascular tissue around the bone, then later, edema in the marrow--and that's what we're looking for, or not. Hopefully not.

That's the way it is with overuse and overwork, isn't it? We don't break instantly. Your body, your spirit, will talk to you, if you listen. There are signs. You can ignore them for a while, grit your teeth, take drugs to mask the pain, but denial only gets you so far. Sooner or later, you must do something different, or there will be a reckoning.

It's no accident that these injuries are called stress reactions. And I could've sworn that among the many sounds the MRI made, one of them was a peristent, mechanical voice saying, "Sit your butt. Sit your butt. Sit your butt."

Message received, giant clanking tube.

The best case scenario is a week of rest, maybe 2, during which I can bike, swim, pool run, and do the elliptical. The worst case (fracture) is 6-8 weeks of rest, and no Ragnar Relay, and no Marine Corps Marathon.

Running is my community, my stress relief, my hobby, my natural mood enhancer, and (ahem) my buffer when I want to eat cookies and cupcakes without worrying over the calories. I'll do what I have to do to get strong again, even if that means no running for a while. I may not like it. But sometimes you're so far gone you need to rest, even from the things that bring you joy. (Maybe you noticed the semi-humorous piece about how getting away with your kids shouldn't be called vacations--those are trips. Because kids are a joy, but they're also work, so if they come along, work comes along. Or the classic Onion article, Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean.)

I sometimes hear people say, "But I love my work. It gives me energy. I don't feel the need to rest from it." Fair enough. I'm not sure I fully believe them. Maybe they're just wired differently. Or maybe they're not working as hard as they claim. Or they aren't as effective in their work as they think they are because they don't have any downtime. Or they're having some stress reactions in places they can't see, and are keeping them at bay through drugs and gritted teeth.

The breakdown that happens is not just physical, it can be mental. Robert came home from a run on Sunday, having been to my #1 favorite running spot, along the Potomac River near National Airport. How dare he go to THAT place! After plenty of fuming, I said, "When I was in middle school and my mother was getting in shape, she would do exercise videos at night, and every night my dad would go to the kitchen for a bowl of ice cream and eat it in front of her. That's how I felt when you told me where you'd been."

The minute those words came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous they were. My husband's running brings him joy and good health--and he supports my joy and health wholeheartedly. My dad actions were passive-aggressive and the sign of an unhappy person who would soon leave our family. Conflating these two things was a stress reaction on my part--a sign I needed to loosen up a bit.

The good news is, perspective comes pretty quickly when you're able to STOP. As I lay on the gurney with my legs sticking into the MRI tube, I had time to think. I thought about the woman who'd passed me in the hallway, wearing a hospital gown while I got away with street clothes, because they weren't imaging any scary vital organs, just my leg. I thought about all the stories, much sadder than mine, that had their origins in that giant machine. And I was grateful. Grateful.

I'll let you know what tomorrow's doctor's appointment brings. For now, I'm trying to Sit My Butt and embrace the rest.

UPDATE: It's a stress fracture. Twelve weeks of no running. I write about that at the end of this post.


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Photo of Mars from the European Space Agency through Creative Commons. From the description: "The many chasms, fractures and cracks in this area are thought to have been caused by stress in the planet’s crust as it stretched and pulled apart."

Face Time -- A Guest Post by the Righteous Jan Edmiston

imgres Jan Edmiston is the 'curator' of A Church for Starving Artists -- which is a must-read if you are passionate about ministry and church transformation -- and a great friend. We decided to do a blog swap this week. That's like a pulpit swap, but in our pajamas. My post is here. Take it away Jan!


Note:  MaryAnn and I first met as pastors in National Capital Presbytery, quickly meeting regularly in a group we called Lex Girls.  Later we were in an excellent writing group together.  I consider her a hero and treasured friend.  -Jan Edmiston (Aww thanks! I'll always be grateful to the Lex Girls because I walked in to the first meeting, VERY new in ordained ministry and in the presbytery and feeling unsure of myself. Within minutes one of our members had shown us her skydiving video and another had dropped a choice expletive, and I thought, "These are my people." -MA)

I broke my nose Wednesday, so my mind’s been on Face Time – not just in terms of the temporary new look on my own face.  Ministry involves using more than using a phone and computer.  We who do professional ministry are pastorally and institutionally required to do lots of Face Time with our people.  Even Skype falls short.

Actually my favorite part of ministry is the Face Time.  I love talking face to face with pre-inquirers pondering professional ministry. I enjoy the face time with elders trying to be faithful as they look for fresh ways to expand their ministry.  Face time with pastors excited about a new call is like dessert.

What’s also true is that Face Time is:

1) elusive because the administrative tasks overtake our lives

2) emotionally draining because that’s what it means to be compassionate.

We need to pace ourselves.

If you’ve ever been at the hospital bedside of your own child or parent or spouse, you know that you wouldn’t be anywhere else but holding that beloved person’s hand.  But it wipes you out.

People in pastoral ministry – pastors, deacons, Stephen Ministers, elders – do this with multiple families at the same time.

If you’ve ever had a vision for What the Church Could Be, you know that you wouldn’t do anything else, but shifting a church culture or starting something totally new can be exhausting.

People in church development and re-development – church planters, core leaders – know that this is relentless work.

Real Life Ministry demands some serious Face Time in which we must be focused wholly on other people.  To avoid utter depletion, we need to figure out how in the world we can cling to and practice our Sabbath.  You could start by reading this book.  And I’m not just saying this because I’m guest blogging on her site. (Heh. -MA)

It’s a holy thing when we pace ourselves. My hope is that my medically required Ice-Bag-On-My-Face Time will also prove to be a holy thing.

How is the Administrivia-Face Time balance going in your life?