Recover Like the Runner You Actually Are!

Wet and Rainy

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:

6 thoughts on “Recover Like the Runner You Actually Are!

  1. I know! I had a nickname of ‘The Big McNugget’ from one college friend (Nigel), and obviously a fondness for them … but the thought of 100 in a day?!? Ugh! Even at my heaviest 20 would fill me up …

  2. You are absolutely correct, the recovery process has no hard and fast rules, they need to be individualized for the person and the event.

    Personally, I find that I can run/race up to a half marathon distance and after a day or two, go back to easy running and be back to “easy” training within the week – as long as I am not a crispy critter mentally.

    If I have been training hard, doing lots of miles at a specific pace and focusing on a particular race, after it, I am pretty crispy mentally – many call it being burnt out. Honestly being burnt out affects me as much or sometimes more than the physical part – as long as I am not injured and only sore.

    We tend to overlook the need for a mental recovery in running.

    We think of running as being our escape and helpful to our mental health, however, it also brings its own stresses, that you need to give yourself some time away from and to recover to go after your next running goal or focus race.

    Running easy as crazy as it seems, is part of my recovery process.

    This relaxes and allows me to get out and move without the pressure of meeting a specific race pace or mileage. I go out and just run by feel, until I want to start training again for my next goal race.

    I am starting to completely re-evaluate how I look at racing/running and how I prepare/train and where listening to my body is more important than what is in the “plan”, which I never tend to follow any way.

    Gotta start ensuring that running stays and is fun, especially after a goal race, sometimes we forget that we are not doing this running thing for a living :-).

  3. Everyone is different opinion when it comes to fueling and recovery just like everyone has an opinion on what underpants fit better. You have to go with what fits you best. Fueling and recovery that works for me may not work for you, my friends or my husband but we share with one another just in case something that is working for me/them may help in the long run. I can eat carbs, lots and lots of carbs with no issues … my husband can not. We’re different people and getting stuck in the mindset that “my” plan is obviously better than “your” plan just causes friction and ugliness on the boards. That’s why I stopped going on boards years ago.

  4. Very good points, Harold and Anita!

    The mental part is very much under-stressed in recovery. And yet like you say it is critical. There are loads of articles about how to mentally prepare for a race, to stay mentally strong during a race, and I even read about how to avoid hurting yourself with analysis too soon after the race. But not much attention is paid to the mental work of recovery. And anyone who has run a race knows it is very important.

  5. Pingback: Running As Part of the Recovery Processs | A Runnah's Story

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