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October 27, 2010

Recovery from the Big Race

Written by Dena Evans


 

RaceRecoveryThis month in Personal Best, we’d like to examine the one time of year most difficult to plan for:  Recovery.

 

Most of us fall into one of two categories.  Either we can’t wait to get right back out there on the roads and are tempted to rush our recovery period, or we let a month turn into two, into three, before pretty soon we are starting again from scratch in our next build-up.  Regardless of which tendency most closely resembles your default habits, we’d like to encourage you to take your next recovery period seriously.  We believe it is one of the most under appreciated, yet important parts of the training year.

 

After you cross the finish line…

When you cross the line of the big race, resist the urge to sit immediately, and keep moving for 10-20 minutes after you cross the line.  Most large races force this process to a certain extent, requiring you to move through lengthy feed, medal, race photo, and other stations as you head toward your baggage claim area.   Begin to hydrate with carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement fluids, sipping and drinking as much as your stomach can accommodate.  In the immediate hours to come, try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, aggressive massage, and hot tubs / baths in favor of cold tubs, and ice, easily digestible foods, and nutritious beverages.    In the day or two following, gentle massage, light stretching, and continued icing / cold tubs may assist in recovery.

 

Sometimes, athletes have certain foods they know will work well with their post-race digestive state.  If this is you, plan ahead and pack them in your gear bag so you know you’ll be able to start your nutrition replenishment with confidence.

 

Recovery is a mental, emotional, AND, a physical process.

Oftentimes, we have put a great deal into our goal races – other leisure habits on hold, dietary choices made and adhered to with great will power, families patiently waiting for you to come home from yet another long run.  Perhaps you have run your goal race in honor of a loved one or an important cause, and most likely you have given more of yourself physically than you have ever given before or typically do on a regular basis.  Your body may feel recovered, but you may not be ready to embark on the emotional journey yet again.  Or, you may feel as though your race left you with unfinished business that you want to re-try at the earliest opportunity, even as your body isn’t quite ready to cooperate.

 

We encourage most athletes to take approximately a month to recover from one of your bulwark goal races.  1-2 weeks of complete rest, followed by at least a couple weeks of recreational exercise, including cross training, and more rest than usual as needed throughout the week.

 

One great approach is to choose another goal race of a shorter distance at least 10-12 weeks from the date of the current goal race for which you are preparing.   You might even want to do this before you compete in the big race.    It is not uncommon to feel emotionally listless after a big effort, and having a new goal can help keep you connected to your over-arching health and fitness goals even as you take some time off.  Choosing a race shorter than the one you just finished will ensure you don’t pressure yourself to find the same level of motivation and commitment right off the bat, can provide a fun fitness test to keep your pace chart moving, and can serve as a good midway point if you do choose to do a longer race in 4-6 months.

 

If you come back from recovery too early, you may feel fine initially, but when the real training sets in, the aches and pains will then begin to crop up – take the time NOW!

 

As we read in this month’s Pro’s Perspective, Brooke Wells says she has traditionally been too aggressive in coming back from her recovery periods.  By jumping immediately back into a heavy training load, she often found herself requiring another mini-break a few weeks in. This is a common occurrence for many runners, both novices and elite athletes.   Now that she has run her best time and is creeping in to the rarified air of internationally competitive performances, she knows she can’t afford to take the same type of liberty this time around.     That second bunch of training weeks after the initial restart is when we as coaches see many problems occur, but we recognize, sometimes it is tough to take that time if you have plenty of motivation left in reserve.  However…..

 

Resist the urge to lace up your shoes the first day you aren’t sore climbing stairs, and after you take that first run, resist the urge to jump in the Sunday 12 miler a few days later with your friends at the park.   The time you spend ramping up slowly back to a normal level of training activity is recovery time as well.  If that is excruciating to you – you can’t stand staying in one more day, encourage yourself that many of the world’s top athletes take 3-6 weeks completely away from running after a goal marathon – you’re trying to work harder than the pros!

 

 

Make sure you use your recovery time to “exhale”, enjoy something you might not have been able to during your build up.

 

For you, it might be a different sport –Brooke mentioned trying rock climbing, something she’d never do in the midst of heavy training.  Maybe it is enjoying a later bedtime, a favorite dessert, an activity with family, a night out, or a weekend away.  Or, just force yourself to sit on the couch and do nothing for once.   While we are here to help you with the plan you need to train for your goals, we also want to make sure that when you are within the crucial weeks before your goal race, you are motivated and not burned out.  Recharge yourself with moderate doses of life’s simple pleasures when a racing deadline is not bearing down and you’ll be able to focus when the time requires that single-mindedness.

 

 

Celebrate and appreciate your accomplishment before heading off to the next mountaintop.

 

It is also important that you celebrate your accomplishment.  Acknowledge to yourself a job well done.  And if things didn’t go as planned, acknowledge an effort earnestly made, a willingness to go for it.  Even if you hope to yet run faster or have bigger fish to fry down the road, consider everything that went right, including the accomplishment of a season of training you might not have considered possible before you began.  Consider all that you hope to recreate in your next build-up as well as those things you hope to change for the better.  After all, while recovery is the final stage of your last race, it is also the first stage of your next!

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