lesson: rest at times of exertion

All the running advice says you should run speed intervals on a regular basis. Some people describe them as sprint reps, and increasingly research is now saying that sprinting is a type of training that benefits everyone and is especially good for us as we get older. Honestly though, whatever you call them, my track record for making sprint reps a part of my weekly routine is not very consistent.

There were those months when I had access to a municipal track. For a while I really enjoyed connecting with a local running group for an evening session of sprinting. I’ve never felt like I have a natural talent for speed, and yet it was clear that these kind of short, intense running bursts really paid off when I returned to my more familiar and comfortable long, steady runs. 

Then there was the period of a couple of years when I would drop Keziah off for her weekly music lesson and head to a quiet road not far away, to run intervals until it was time to collect her. It wasn’t quite the same as being at a track, being encouraged by the other runners, but at least it was relatively secluded and I could make good use of that slice of time.

In any case, apart from the odd effort here and there, it’s been a while since I really committed to a regular practice of speedier runs and somehow it’s on my radar again. And what I’m noticing this time is that the quality of any particular interval - whether counted in seconds, minutes, metres or kilometres - depends a good deal on the quality of the rest in between intervals.

It’s no use powering through 90 seconds of sprinting and then collapsing at the other end, unable to gear up for the next round of effort. On the other hand, staying highly strung and anticipating the next sprint prematurely is no good either. During this short period of planned rest, the idea is to settle the body. Allow the breath to return to a steady rhythm, let the heart rate go down. Stay in the zone, stay focused, but bring that intense sense of exertion to a state of calm. 

The quality of this rest interval depends in part on your ability to be in the moment. However that last interval went, good or bad, let it go. And don’t get anxious about whether you can run another 10 of these intervals, or however many you have left. The only thing you have to do in this moment is to breathe, to settle your body down and, when the time is right, to commit to the next thing.

improve the quality of your rest

At the beginning of this year, I felt a particular word drop into my heart. It was the word ‘Rest.’ At the time, we were in the final stages of establishing an agreement for us to take on a retreat centre for the next season of ministry. That particular opportunity fell through at the last minute, leaving us wondering what God might do instead. We’ve gone ahead with planning some guided retreats for leaders, hoping to find a way to offer them at some point. We’ve taken booking for debriefings, knowing these will have to happen online for the moment. We’ve committed to walk alongside various individuals who are in the process of arriving or leaving the field. We’ve continued to meet with the dear people who had planned to move with us to the retreat centre, and together have considered the possibility of finding and funding other properties.

None of this feels conducive to the rest I felt invited to at the beginning of the year! If I’m honest, each of these elements of life - and, needless to say, there are more - demands a lot of energy. I feel like I’m in a round of sprint intervals, expending all I’ve got in this intense and focused moment, only to find I have an all too brief moment of respite before the next thing requires my energy.

The quality of our rest is always important, never more so than during seasons such as this one. Here are 3 things I am learning about this:

1. Plan to rest. 

We rarely feel like everything that needs doing is done. Perhaps this is never more true than when we are working from home (anyone else feel this?). It is crucial for us to plan regular times of quality rest. This could be establishing a ‘curfew’ on work-related emails and calls in the evening, or a weekly practise of Sabbath. Recently I’ve been hearing that more entrepreneurs and those running their own schedules are opting for 6 week cycles of more intense work, followed by a more relaxed week. Whatever way we do it, we need to plan times of rest and honour those boundaries, not wait until we collapse.

2. Settle down. 

For much of our lives, we function at a level of high alert. Our bodies and minds are constantly processing a huge amount of stimulation. When our bodies are tired, it is too easy to numb out on screen-time which doesn’t do much for the state of our minds. Each of us needs to find practices that bring us to a state of settledness. Is that a walk in nature? Time around the fire-pit? A massage? Centering prayer? Daily journalling? Some other creative practice? Whatever serves to settle your body and mind is a necessary part of your regular rest.

3. Breathe deeply. 

One of the main ways we can settle our physical and emotional state is to learn to breathe deeply. This could be one of the most simple and underused forms of rest. With the growth in mindfulness apps offering training and practices, there is a wide variety of ways to make a point of slowing and deepening our breathing. The point us to find something that serves as a simple reminder, and make it a habit to breathe deeply for a few minutes each day.


How is the quality of your rest these days? In what ways could you incorporate planned moments of rest even during intensely demanding times? What are those activities that help you return to a state of physical, mental or emotional settledness?


Heavenly Father, we trust you both for the grace to respond to those things that require our energy and focus, and for the grace to honour our need for rest. May our work be good and fruitful, and our rest be truly restorative.