When you train, the goal, one supposes, is an increase in performance. The reason that training has that effect is that our body has an incredible ability to repair itself. Repair is key because the act of training is the act of doing damage to ones body in a controlled fashion. One of the coolest parts of how our body repairs itself is that the repaired tissue is often stronger and more resilient than the tissue that came before, and this is how we improve. Training strains the muscular system, the nervous system, the cardio-vascular system, the endocrine system, and many others. And our body has a mechanism for repairing all of them. And while it's repairing, it tries to ensure that the same level of strain won't cause the same degree of damage. But none of this repair and improvement occurs during training. It happens in the spaces in between.
I'm terrible at recovery...especially when running. I hate running slowly. I hate resting properly after a run. It's a mental thing. But one of the best parts of the 'taper' is recovery workouts. These are workouts that never really move out of zone 1 or really, really easy. If you can't breath through your nose while doing recovery workouts (in the pool too...try it), you're going too hard. Normally on a 30 minute run, I'll put in 6 or 7 kms. Today I only did about 4.5 (well, actually I did 6 kms, but it took close to 45 minutes). I also did an hour long mountain bike with the dog (read: really slow). In my swim this morning I didn't even count laps, just swam easy, focusing on my efficiency for 30 minutes. I probably put in only 800m, but that's ok. The goal of these workouts is to stimulate the healing activities of the body (increase blood flow, hormone production, etc) without causing additional trauma. My body is rife with cumulative training damage so kickstarting the systems to clean it up is important for being ready to race.
But it does another thing. It gives me the physical release that comes from activity, but more importantly the mental release from always living on the edge of overtraining. Doing nothing would increase my mental strain (I get guilty/afraid if I'm not training), would accelerate loss of fitness and wouldn't provide the recovery benefits. It also gives me the chance to get out into this beautiful summer and smell the roses, as it were. I got to bike and run different courses than I would in a training session with specific timing or terrain requirements. I get to take the dog and not worry terribly about having to stop if she want to stop and smell the ... roses. I get to finish my workout in 2 hours instead of 4. I get to have a glass of wine the night before and not worry about the impact it will have. In short, it lets me enjoy these last few weeks before my major event.
Training isn't the only aspect of my life where I've come to appreciate the spaces in between. I've already written about a space for thought, which enables this here blog. In agile development, the increased performance of the team comes only from the retrospective that happens each sprint, not from the work being done. Heck, all the goodness of beer only comes from the mash, the enzymatic rest that allows the diastatic power of the grain to do its magic. Even in business once in a while, you need to stop, take stock, recover from the last year's hard grind and look forward to the future. Without it, you won't grow and get better. Without it, you can't enjoy the journey. Rest well, my friends, rest well.