This morning was one of those wet and rainy days that you almost hope for in November – because while I got drenched, it was 55 degrees when I went out! I tried to capture just how wet I was, but aside from the shirt looking darker and a couple of drops of water about to fall off my hat, you can’t really tell.
Over the last couple of weeks there have been a few things that have come up around recovery, nutrition, and what the ‘right’ way is to do things. Here goes:
● Perhaps you heard that Usain Bolt claims to have eaten ~1000 Chicken McNuggets during the 10 days he was in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics? Crazy story – but since he had issues with the food he was getting otherwise, it actually makes sense.
● Runner’s World just released a video asking elite runners how they recover from a marathon. The title is ‘recover like a pro’, but in reality it is more about how they will indulge themselves now that the marathon is done!
● There was a bit of a debate on one of the runner’s groups I belong to about the philosophy and methodology of recovery. One of the members was very vocal and a bit belligerent about the EXACT CORRECT way that everyone MUST recover. His method was that widely used rule of thumb – one day per mile raced.
And of course, I have thoughts. Otherwise why would I be bothering with this stuff?
The first thought I had was about the nutritional messages being sent – that some might believe that you can just eat anything you want after running a marathon. Or, like Bolt, that you can simply eat anything BECAUSE you are a runner. One of the reasons that people who start doing exercise don’t lose weight (assuming that is a goal) is because they end up increasing their intake, or change their nutritional balance.
You see images saying ‘I work out so I can eat whatever I want’. And while for some people that might be true, most recreational runners still need to maintain dietary control. Chances are that eating 1000 chicken nuggets over the course of 10 days will not leave you feeling very good physically … or about yourself!
But the bigger one for me is about ‘recovery’. Conventional wisdom tells you that to be at your best for a longer race such as a marathon or half-marathon you need to ‘taper’ (I plan to discuss that in more detail in a later post). And then after the race you enter a recovery period to allow your muscles to heal and your body to … well, recover.
So exactly what does recovery entail? Well, you are doing more or less the opposite of tapering in terms of exercise – you are allowing your body to heal while slowly building back your mileage. There is a nutritional component – you want to continue to fuel your body so it can heal, even if you aren’t yet burning all of those calories. You will build back to a point where you are using that fuel for running again.
So what is the ‘right’ recovery plan? Unlike what some might assert, I don’t believe there IS such a thing. Some claim that you should recover 1 day per mile raced, meaning no speed work or races for 2 weeks after a half-marathon or 1 month after a marathon. Others recommend a ‘reverse taper’ – that if you took 2 weeks to taper into your race, you take two weeks to taper out.
Still others ask questions – what was your race LIKE, how hard to you work, how do you FEEL? And that is what is interesting to me – because I have found that when people lay down absolute rules for things, at best they work for the average person. Which means it is too much for some, too little for others.
I DO think it is critical that you actually take time to recover. Don’t be afraid to not run for a couple of days, or a few, or a week if needed. Listen to your body – say it to yourself over and over again ‘what is my body telling me’? Don’t be afraid to build back more slowly than you planned – it is better than trying to come back to fast and getting hurt.
When I have run half and full marathons in the past I have taken a day or two off and then slowly rebuilt my miles and pace. For the Wineglass I was at full mileage by Friday of the same week, which surprised me more than a bit. But it was how I was feeling.
Last weekend I ran the Red Baron Half Marathon, and I accomplished my goal of running a fairly flat pace – and as a result I came through the finish not feeling spent. I knew I had more to give, and honestly I felt more drained after my 15.5 mile ‘double hill run’ the week before! So I figured … why not try to go out on Monday morning?
And I did – it was just over 4 miles, at a very relaxed pace, and it felt fine – I was a little sore in places, but as I expected I had felt worse on a normal weekend run. When Lisa – world’s best supporter, calls me on all my crap and constantly reminds me not to be stupid – asked ‘what about this whole RECOVERY thing, I noted that since I felt good I wanted to test out running the next day. And it was fine … for this specific case.
Everyone is different and every situation is different – but WE are not Elite runners, WE need to maintain a nutritional system that works for us as we integrate our running into our daily lives, WE need to figure out how to recover from a marathon and still get up the next morning, get the kids ready for school and make it to work!
Oh … and to close things out, as I was reading about Usain Bolt and watching the Runner’s World video … my head went back to 1977 and this classic John Belushi SNL video: