Learning How To Recover Properly
By Brian Rosetti
Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, one of the most overlooked components of a runner’s training plan is ‘recovery.’ Naturally, athletes are more focused on the work they must put in to reach their goals, not the time or habits necessary to recover from this work. Running is unlike any other sport in that the body needs more time to recover and bounce back than usual. If you don’t recover properly then chances are you’re going to get sick, under-perform or get injured. My first priority when working with runners is to keep them healthy, even if that means under-training them. The longer you stay healthy the more consistent you are and only after lengthy periods of consistent training is when real results come.
While training at ZAP Fitness I had the privilege of rooming with Elly Rono, 2:10 marathoner and fourth place finisher in The New York Marathon in 2004. What was interesting about my time living with Elly while he trained for New York was not the 140 mile weeks but rather how smart he was about recovering and making sure his body was well rested. Obviously, running that much kind of forces you to rest when you’re not running, but it was impressive to see such a high level athlete focused on recovery. As a full-time athlete, Elly was able to train more than the average person who needs to work 40+ hours a week on top of their training to earn a living. The key point here is not that he had more time to train but he had more time to rest and recover and focus on eating well, getting enough sleep each day, getting massage therapy, etc. When your coach has you running 140 miles a week you can’t really afford to miss two runs in one day, let alone a full day of running. But if Elly got up and felt too tired to run he would sacrifice his mileage goal for the week without hesitation to make sure he recovered and take the day off. He was amazing at listening to his body versus letting his schedule dictate his routine no matter what.
Most runners who are trying to reach a personal goal in the 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon work full-time – some have families, some travel a lot and some have to sacrifice sleep to squeeze their run in before work. When you add in this outside stress it’s very difficult to recover properly, even if you’re only running 30, 40, 50 miles a week. Sometimes these athletes need to do more to recover than a professional. And recovering properly is not just about making sure your body is getting consistent sleep. There are many pieces to the puzzle and it’s crucial you’re putting them all together in order to recover properly. Here are my most important pieces:
Adequate and Consistent Sleep
It’s all about accumulated and consistent sleeping patterns. Getting a good night’s rest a day or two before a race after being inconsistent the week before is not going to cut it.
Fueling properly during and after workouts
Your rate of recovery is like night and day if you’re fueling properly during and immediately after harder efforts. Plan out your fueling during longer runs. If you’re taking gel make sure to get them into your system early (before you feel like you need them) and take with lots of water. It’s like night and day when you wash one down with lots of water versus very little. Also, make sure you’re planning and refueling properly in that 30-minute window right after your workouts (electrolytes, quick carbs, some protein, etc.) to replenish your muscle fuel stores. Again, you’ll have a completely different training experience if you’re making this a habit.
Running easy on easy days
If a workout doesn’t go as planned don’t try to make up for it on a scheduled easy day. And easy days should feel easy. You’ll get more out of your quality sessions if you’re being smart about your easy days and that’s when you’ll move your fitness forward, not on a short run that’s supposed to be nice and easy.
Active stretching is the best way to stretch. It promotes faster recovery through increased blood circulation which helps eliminate waste and improves growth and repair of the muscles.
Body work – massage, active release treatment, restorative yoga
Maintenance massage is important to prevent injury. Don’t just get body work done when you’re injured. Schedule it into your routine every few weeks. Massage can increase your rate of recovery by helping to eliminate lactic acid, increasing blood flow in your legs and by helping to break up any scar tissue that may have built up in your muscles. The overall benefit brings about more quality training sessions and longer periods of uninterrupted training. As I said earlier, that’s truly when real results come.
Active release is an amazingly effective technique to treat different injuries but it can also be an effective prevention tool. An ART certified professional can be screened for areas of tightness or weakness that can lead to injury. It’s important to remove any adhesions in the muscles before you suffer a serious setback in your training.