Learning To Rest

If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.


If you ever ran an ultra-marathon, this quote will hit you as common sense. But not many people ran ultra-marathons.

So let me try to break it down for you.

An ultra-marathon is a race longer than a traditional 42km marathon (which in, and by itself, is enough of a difficult attempt). The shortest ones are around 50km, but there are ultras as long as 200km (I know, I’ve finished one) and even multi-day races in which people cover way beyond 500km.

Attempting to run continuously such a race is impossible for 99,99999% of the runners out there. And even the tiny percentage that gets to run an ultra, stops every now and then at a check point. The sheer difficulty of the attempt forces them to do that.

So, in any ultra, there will be some time allocated to walking, or, even better, to resting. It’s fundamental and all the great runners are making use of it.

All the ultras that I ran were planned before to include some time to rest (being it walking, or just minutes calculated to be spent at checkpoints). And, provided I didn’t get injured or had other problems, I finished all of them.

Continuous Effort Versus Sustained Focus

Time to rest is crucial in any big attempt. We tend to have this mental representation of a continuous effort that will lead us to our goal, and forget about the inherent alternation that surrounds us. Everything changes, things are going up and down, days follow night, we get up and then we fall asleep. There’s a rhythm, a sinusoidal line, not a straight one.

Keeping the eye on the goal is one thing. Spending your energy without ever replenishing it, thinking this is the only way to reach the goal, is a completely different one. And yet, many people are doing it (I’ve done it countless times).

There’s a confusion between continuous effort (which is impossible) and sustained focus (which is desirable).

Continuous effort is a chimera, it’s impossible. We’re simply not built in such a way to contain all the energy we need to achieve big goals in one go (talking about different goals than ultra-marathons now, the kind that take at least one year to achieve). We may want to make progress continuously, every day, and that’s more than ok, as all this progress compounds over time, but we cannot make progress unless we are able to work.

On the other side, focus is not effort, is simply keeping in our attention field the end goal, and make sure we’re not steering away.

Resting is part of the journey. It’s part of how to achieve big, hairy, audacious goals. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, to pretend that in order to accomplish something big, you have to rest, but it’s true. It takes a while to wrap your head around this, and separate vision (focus) from execution (effort), but once you’ve done that, you’re going to treat your pauses, your time away, your relaxation moments, just as seriously as you treat any focused work you’re doing.

And that’s what I did today, with this blog post. I just decided today’s article, which is still part of my 365 days writing challenge, will be about how to rest.

Which is exactly what I’m going to do after I type the period at the end of this sentence.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

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