“You run slower than you did in high school,” complained Austin as he clipped my heels yet again on the narrow trail. Austin, a mid-distance track runner, friend and occasional training partner, can’t abide the snail’s pace runs that make up the bulk of my mileage.
Besides easy runs, I do a lot of things slower than I used to. I walk slower, drive slower and eat slower. I’m slower to make decisions, pass judgement and change moods. I savour the Sunday newspaper, rationing out a few articles each morning to make it last the week. I’ll while away an afternoon cooking, meticulously chopping and measuring and deliberating over spices. Sometimes, when my mind is racing, I’ll even try to slow down my thoughts.
My teenage self would undoubtedly be disgusted by this apparent inefficiency. But, at the worldly age of 22, I have begun to appreciate the benefits and pleasures of slowing down—especially after the frenetic pace of undergrad. I don’t miss choking down leftovers while jogging to class, studying on the trainer, five minutes naps and thirty second showers. Although, when free time is at a premium, you learn to extract enjoyment from every precious minute. Stealing an hour of personal time can feel like an indulgence, a full day, like the height of decadence. Since graduating, I have more free time than ever, yet I still try to appreciate every moment.
But free time—that is, time outside of work, school and other toilsome commitments—should not be confused with downtime. Many people, especially endurance athletes, fail to make this distinction. These human perpetual motion machines plow on, day after day, incessantly working, training, moving. Superficially, they appear to be paragons of efficiency. We marvel at their seemingly limitless energy and inexhaustible reserves. But what if these people were only operating at a fraction of their potential?
I’ve barely slowed down since I finished school, throwing myself into training and racing to bust out of a post-exam funk. How much truth is there to the adage “a change is as good as a rest”? My body is beginning to politely request some downtime. I’ve learned that if I don’t listen, the request will become a demand, then an ultimatum and finally an enforced shutdown. Lights out, the show is over. I have never quite reached the point of complete burnout, but I’ve peered into the abyss.
In the past, I’ve trained hard year-round regardless of how I felt, naively believing I was following the triathlon dogma of HTFU. Maybe this year I’ll try slowing down sometime. Maybe I’ll come back stronger and more motivated than ever. But for now, I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.