Today is hardly a “rest” day. Today marks the first day of the semester, so it is begins another 16-week cycle of sorts, one that culminates just a week after my 18-week marathon training cycle. As both come to a climax around the same time, I know there is a risk for stress and fatigue affecting both. Therefore, I am going to share my thoughts (or perhaps goals) for sleep and time management here. Then I’ll review the last week of training and look to the week ahead.
One of the hardest parts of my job as a department chair is that I too often take the work home with me, sometimes intentionally and often unintentionally. Some nights, like last Wednesday, I struggle to sleep because my mind races with questions: Are there enough seats in first-year composition courses for incoming students? When will I finish my own syllabi? What information do I have to get to the faculty? In almost all cases, these concerns aren’t real. I have already prepared for all contingencies and have plans in place, but I can’t tell my mind that at night, so I can get in bed at 10:00 PM and still be wide awake at 2:30 or 3:30 AM. The key to avoiding this sort of anxiety-driven insomnia seems to be a mix of mindfulness and good sleep habits, especially avoiding screen time (and especially work-related screen time) before bed. The new semester also brings the risk of falling into other bad sleep related habits. Late afternoon office hours make it too easy to have a 2nd, 3rd, … or 4th cup of coffee for the day. Although the coffee might make an extra hour of work possible, I know I will pay the price hours later.
I prefer to avoid any sort of sleep aids, even the over the counter options, as they don’t correct the bad habits affecting sleep and make it hard to get up and be productive, in training or work, the next morning.
In training, sleep matters as much as mileage volume and nutrition. With the intensity of adding volume and hard workouts in marathon training, the stress on the body adds up, especially through the breakdown of muscles breakdown in catabolic state. It is during rest that the catabolic state shifts to the anabolic muscles, allowing for growth and recovery. Without proper rest, the breakdown of muscles and bones continues.
The best athletes in the world all prioritize sleep just as much as they prioritize their hardest training sessions and their most important competitions.
– Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, Peak Performance, p. 107
Stulberg and Magness’s Peak Performance offers one of the most accessible syntheses of research on the effects of sleep and lack of sleep on the mind and body. For too long in life, I believed the fact I didn’t seem to need a lot of sleep (maybe only 4 or 5 hours a night) to be a benefit. Throughout graduate school, I could work late into the night (or early into the morning, as it was) to get writing done. But now, at 38, I realize to be effective as a scholar or a runner, I need sleep, but it remains a constant struggle.
Very early in my teaching career, when I was teaching as a graduate assistant at Indiana State University during my master’s program, I realized that my students were not getting work done because they believed they didn’t have enough time to do everything. On a whim one day, I had my students make a list of everything they have to do in a given day–attend classes, eat, sleep, work, commute, exercise, etc. (they all had a lot to do, and I think today’s students, about 15 years later, have even more demands on their time), and they were all surprised to see how much time they still had left, especially once we set these up as pie charts. I think about that exercise from time to time and wonder why I no longer use it with students and, importantly, why I don’t use it with myself.
The new semester brings many real challenges, but it also brings the imagined challenge that I don’t have enough time to do everything. I think a major challenge of academic life is that the work is expansive–preparing to teach, grading, engaging in research, and writing are all activities that can stretch into just about any amount of time. But the work also gives a certain amount of flexibility in scheduling; I can get in a long run on Thursday mornings if my training plan calls for it. A lot of runners would love that flexibility.
To focus on better time management and use of time for the coming semester, I will try to achieve the following goals:
- I have asked my colleagues not to make my office hours drop-in time for things that can’t be answered or resolved quickly. A drop-in is not the time to come up with a strategic vision for a department.
- To make that work, I need to make sure there is a time and place for that sort of work, having regularly scheduled meetings to be out in front of things rather than behind and always being in response mode.
- When I’m at work, I need to try to do as much work as possible to bring less home.
- But I also have to make sure not to cut out other things. It’s easy to take shortcuts on other important aspects of marathon training–stretching, recovery, foam rolling, core work, etc. These, too, need their time and place.
- Carve out time for fun. Protect that time, too.
- Take Sundays off from work. Just as Mondays are a rest day from running to promote recovery, Sundays are a rest day from work to be able to step away. I am even making sure to tell students not to expect email responses on Sundays (and, for the most part, in the evenings).
As I have touched on before and will explore further in future installment, I find many ways that academic work benefits my running and that running benefits my academic work. But without sleep and time management, I will fail to meet my goals for both.
Last week was an up and down week for running. In addition to the relentless humidity (so many runs have been at 90% or higher humidity) and heat, the forecast all week called for storms, most of which never materialized. But to fit runs in windows of “better” weather, I cut some short and moved one to an evening. Running in 94 degrees, I ran for about half as long as planned for that run on Thursday. This part of the training plan is about “time on feet,” with time spent running being more important than pace, so cutting runs short is not ideal.
For my long run on Saturday, I did tough out 12 good miles (8:27/mile pace) in high humidity that, at times, led to a light misting. For the week, Monday to Sunday, I ended up with 30.8 miles (volume should be higher), which brings me up to 90.2 miles so far for August. The volume is good enough right now, so discipline will be key this week as I balance the new semester with training.
Rob Krar won the Leadville Trail 100 Run this past week. The Billy Yang Podcast, Episode 020, was release on August 18 and digs deep into injury, depression, sport, and life: http://billyyangpodcast.libsyn.com/rob-krar-byp-020
As I prepare for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, I am also fundraising with the St. Jude Heroes program. In 2017, the Memphis Marathon Weekend raised over $10.3 million for the care and research activities of the hospital. You can support my fundraising efforts here.