Thoughts About Run­ning

Each is­sue, our new colum­nist Madeleine Cum­mings, a run­ner and jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Ed­mon­ton, will ex­plore a chal­leng­ing ques­tion that faces all run­ners.

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - By Madeleine Cum­mings

I’d Bet­ter Sleep On It

Suc­cess­ful run­ners don’t skimp on sleep. Deena Kas­tor, who ran a masters record­break­ing 2:27:47 at the Chicago Marathon this fall, has long said she gets at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Ul­tra­ma­rathoner Josh Cox once called nap­ping “as im­por­tant as eating.” And Amer­i­can marathoner Ryan Hall said naps were so im­por­tant to his train­ing that he marked them as “busi­ness meet­ings” in his cal­en­dar.

I get it – but I don’t, re­ally. I know that sleep is im­por­tant, but I’m never ready to re­lin­quish my day to it. The prob­lem has al­ways been the plen­ti­tude of more in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties I could be do­ing in­stead of sleep­ing. Just about any­thing, I have found, is more fun than ly­ing in bed and do­ing noth­ing.

I have long hoped that I might be part of the one-to-three per cent of the pop­u­la­tion who are “short sleep­ers” – “the sleep­less elite,” as the Wall Street Jour­nal once called them – who get by on just five or six hours a night. I re­al­ize that most peo­ple who con­sider them­selves in this cat­e­gory are de­luded, but why couldn’t it be me?

It struck me, though, that lack of sleep could be hold­ing me back as a run­ner. So I de­cided to log my sleep for one month and try to get an am­bi­tious eight hours in ev­ery night. I picked eight hours as a goal be­cause it was well above my nor­mal amount and I re­mem­ber read­ing some­where that most adults need be­tween seven and nine hours. Let me tell you, the month was hellish. Even on the nights I slid into bed early, the fates in­ter­vened to keep me awake. On the sec­ond night, I set an alarm for 8 a.m., but woke up in a panic at 2:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m., and 7:30 a.m. By Day 4 I was no longer wak­ing up feel­ing like I was be­ing sum­moned by demons in Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity, but sleep was still fit­ful. And I wasn’t feel­ing fresh dur­ing my runs ei­ther.

In or­der to get an ex­pert’s opin­ion, I called Dr. Charles Sa­muels, a physi­cian and med­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Cen­tre for Sleep and Hu­man Per­for­mance in Cal­gary. Sa­muels has stud­ied the re­la­tion­ship of sleep on elite ath­letes’ re­cov­ery and per­for­mance. He’s also helped Olympians de­velop sleep strate­gies dur­ing train­ing and lead­ing up to com­pe­ti­tion.

Sa­muels told me both in­som­nia and stress about not get­ting enough sleep are com­mon among the ath­letes he works with. He had two main sug­ges­tions:

The first was to nap. Nap­ping helps ath­letes reach their weekly sleep goals by mak­ing up for time lost dur­ing nightly sleep ses­sions. Sa­muels rec­om­mended I read the book, Take a Nap, Change Your Life! by Sara Med­nick, but I re­mained skep­ti­cal. My three at­tempts to nap dur­ing the month so far were all fail­ures. Try­ing to nap when I am not feel­ing tired is like think­ing about friends of mine who have given birth. I know other peo­ple’s bod­ies are ca­pa­ble of it but not mine right now, thank you.

Sa­muels’s sec­ond sug­ges­tion, which I found more at­tain­able, was to iden­tify my nat­u­ral sleep cy­cle and design a train­ing and re­cov­ery plan that works with it.

Since I have what’s called a “de­layed sleep phase” (i.e. I’m not a morn­ing per­son) he sug­gested go­ing to bed later, wak­ing up later, and do­ing the ma­jor­ity of my run­ning in the af­ter­noon or evening.

I had hoped my month of dis­ci­pline would help lead to health­ier habits. And I did re­al­ize that seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, in­stead of eight, felt bet­ter and was eas­ier to ob­tain. But the next week, I im­me­di­ately slipped back to my old ways. In­stead of pan­ick­ing as 10 p.m. ap­proached, I kept cruis­ing through the feeds on my phone.

This must be why the elites speak so se­ri­ously about their sleep sched­ules. Be­cause get­ting enough sleep is in­cred­i­bly hard, re­quir­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, willpower and care­ful mon­i­tor­ing. It’s more work than I’m usu­ally will­ing to put in, to be hon­est, but at least I know now what the “right” amount is – for me – and some strate­gies for stick­ing to it.

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