By Laura Simon

I suppose our hobbies find us when we need them, and that’s certainly been the case for my relationship with running. After I had kids, the sport that I loathed with a passion through my teens and twenties suddenly became a discipline that spoke to me.

Maybe it’s just me, but running has a lot in common with parenting. The painful first mile (or three) while my body learns to accept what we’re actually doing resembles the painful early months with a newborn. In both cases, sleep-deprived and aching, my body and mind rebel against their new reality. Then things even out for a while and I find a groove…until an enormous hill – or family stomach virus – shows up and knocks the wind out of me for a bit.

The other day I was comparing my recent runs on the software that supports my Garmin, and I couldn’t help but notice a trend that seemed worth examining. My running partner and I run four times a week. Whenever possible, that works out to every other day, but there are always two days where we run back to back because, well, we only have seven days in a week.

The second run – the one that follows the other by 24 hours or less – is always slower. MUCH SLOWER. And according to my notes, it’s also brutally painful. Every. Single. Time.

Certainly we know that consistency brings results, but when we’re so consistent that we don’t take breaks, our bodies struggle.

Any trainer will tell you something to the same effect: our muscles need time to rest before we tear them down again. To ignore that advice will eventually earn you something you don’t want: burnout, illness or injury. As counterintuitive as it seems, appropriate rest is a vital key to fitness.

And yet, how many of us fail to give ourselves any rest from the responsibilities of motherhood?

I get it. Trust me. Taking a real break involves a horde of support staff willing to step in and take over our myriad responsibilities. And often the things that signify rest – spa days, naps, drinking coffee while it’s hot – are simply impossible from a financial or practical standpoint. In my case, I simply quit trying to rest because I my schedule and my bank account couldn’t afford it.

But if you don’t give yourself down time, eventually you’ll find yourself physically and emotionally spent. For me, that’s meant I needed to start scheduling weekly sessions with a counselor who can see my life with clarity I can’t seem to find myself.

When I recently managed to start running after a months-long break (thanks to a new running partner who motivates me by waiting outside my house at 4:40 am), my counselor congratulated me for taking time for myself.

I laughed. “Me time” involves coffee, solitude, a good book and a bed…maybe a little trash TV on a good day, right? No. It turns out that taking time for myself is nurturing a friendship and my health over the course of seven miles through dark cornfields. When I’m done, I’m rejuvenated and ready to face my day.

Taking time for myself can mean telling the kids to play quietly in another room while I sip coffee and read a chapter in a book. It can mean taking an Epsom salt bath after everyone goes to bed. Or staying a few extra minutes to talk with a friend. “Me time” is anything that leaves our bodies and our minds ready to tackle what’s next, and while you won’t ever catch me turning down a spa day, I can practice self-care without one.

Even if you only run when something is chasing you, please take a lesson from my Garmin. Rest matters. It can be active rest, but give yourself something: a tiny break in routine, a chapter in a book, the chance to laugh hard or breathe peacefully for a few minutes. I promise you: it makes a difference.

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