|My idea of recovery!|
This article is going to focus on what I utilized to consistently recover between workouts and, most important, between the two races. Obviously training and nutrition directly affect recovery hence the reason those articles were written first. The more consistent your training is the stronger and more durable you become, thereby shortening the recovery needed between hard efforts. Eating a clean diet daily and strategically fueling during and post activities also speeds recovery. The following areas are where I focused my recovery energy: rest, active recovery, muscle manipulation, supplements, and listening to your body.
**(As a disclaimer, I am not sponsored by any of the products I discuss in this article, they are just the ones I use, or have found work best for me.)
First I am going to define what I mean by rest. For me this is defined as one of two activities; sleep and non-training days.
Sleep, in my opinion, is the most underrated recovery tool available. There is a reason you see the best runners in the world (East Africans) appearing to be the laziest. They run their workouts and then spend all non-training time horizontal or eating, PERIOD. Now I am not a professional athlete, I have a 60+ hour a week job, two kids, house, and other responsibilities. So the Kenyan method doesn’t quite apply. What I did do however was to prioritize sleep. I went to bed early, as I had to get up early (3:30-4:30am some days). That’s it! I tried to sleep at least 8-10 hours a night. It didn’t always happen and I didn’t let that stress me out. But when it did, consistently, I felt much better in training especially on back to back long or hard days.
Non-training days are days with nothing I would consider training. Examples would be; bike riding with my family, hanging out with my family, laying on the beach with my family, or generally doing whatever my family wants to do. There’s a theme right?! For me I take every Sunday as a non-training day, yes EVERY SUNDAY! Training hard is not only physically wearing but mentally as well. For me being able to spend the entire day just focusing on my family is incredible recharging. Some would argue that by not training 7 days a week I might miss out on some fitness gains. I believe however that any minimal gains I miss out on are fully made up for by the huge mental recharge I gain. This allows me to regroup both physically and mentally for the next week of focused training.
Sticking with the rest theme I will cover active recovery. For me active recovery means any activity that enhances my ability deliver quality in my hard workouts, without further fatiguing me mentally or physically for those efforts. My favorite form of active recovery is swimming. I love swimming. First, when you swim (if you don’t have a waterproof MP3) it’s silent. Talk about great mental recovery, 30-50 minutes in the pool is my equivalent of meditation. Second, the water is cold, not as cold as an ice bath, but the anti-inflammatory benefits are similar. Third, you are horizontal in the water and that combined with the kicking motion is great for clearing your legs of damage. Some other active recovery tools I use are the elliptical, bike, and walking/hiking. Yes I said walking! Much like sleeping, walking is truly underrated as a recovery tool.
I chose this title to represent the following methods I utilized to aid my muscles in recovering more efficiently; massage, foam/stick rolling, the dry sauna, active stretching, ice bath, and compression socks. These are pretty self-explanatory, so I will just briefly describe how, when, and why I utilize each of these.
Massage is pretty easy to explain but hard to acquire. The most complicated part of massage is; first finding a great massage therapist and second being able to afford that individual. I happened to luck out on finding not only a great therapist but also got a great 3 session package deal (Same price as 1.5)! The tricky part of a deep sports massage is that it causes just as much damage as hard work out, so you have to be cautious when you schedule them. I had my first one in the middle of my hardest training block; the reason for this was I wanted to see how my body reacted to the massage without jeopardizing my race. The second was timed 7-8 days prior to my first race. The reason for this is that I run my last hard work out 10 days prior to a race, so therefore my muscles need the work and it gives me enough time to recover from the damage of the massage. The third massage was timed similar (7-8 days) prior to my second race. I believe if you can afford to get the work done it will really help with both mental and physical recovery.
Foam/stick rolling is basically a self-inflicted torture session. For most of us weekly massage sessions are not an option, enter the foam roller. I use my foam roller every night before bed. I roll out every muscle from my hips to ankles. First this helps speed the recovery process. Second it quickly pinpoints tight or damaged muscles, I value this because it allows me to avoid an overuse injury. I most often utilize my stick roller prior to hard workouts and races as a warm up tool. I find this is a good way to loosen up tighter muscles and increase blood flow prior to intense activity.
|Trigger Point Grid Roller|
The dry sauna may not be the easiest for people as they usually need a gym membership to gain access to one. I love the dry sauna for several reasons. First it is relaxing; by easing the tension in muscles you can get a deeper stretch which leads to greater flexibility. Second it increases blood flow, this speeds the removal of waste products from damaged muscles. Third, it is a body stressor which helps with both heat, and in my experience altitude, acclimation. By no means is it similar to living or training at altitude but it does help. As an athlete who is inspired by mountains but lives at sea-level this is something I plan to research further, and write about later. I spend 50% of my time in the dry sauna on my back with my legs elevated against the wall. This is so relaxing I have actually fallen asleep, much to the dismay of the gym staff, who thought I had collapsed! The other 50% I stretch. I try to utilize the dry sauna at least 3-4 times a week.
|Stretch Out Strap|
Post workout I stretch most of my major muscle groups with the aid of a “stretch out strap”. You can also roll up a medium size towel or t-shirt to facilitate the stretching. By utilizing the strap I am able to get a more controlled and deeper stretch. Again I do this type of stretching post workout and in the evening after I have rolled out my muscles. This stretching routine allows me to maintain greater flexibility and correct imbalances in my body.
Compression socks are a tool I utilize on evenings when I have back to back long or hard efforts coming. For example; when I have back to back long runs scheduled I will sleep with my legs elevated and wear compression socks. I believe this aids in recover and helps with a reduction in soreness. This has a two-fold benefit. First since my muscles have recovered a little bit I am able to do a more quality second hard/long workout. Second because I am a little less sore when I begin the second workout I am able to maintain better form which reduces my chance of injury. I do not utilize these socks during runs because they annoy me, and that just becomes a training hindrance. I also do not wear them every night. I am a big believer that your muscles need to actually adapt to the stress you are placing on them. There are times for me when a little extra soreness is a good thing; it means my workouts are doing their job.
Ice baths are a tool I only utilize post-race. Ice baths are an amazing recovery tool. That being said some of the inflammatory reaction that ice baths inhibit or reduce I want to happen. The reason for this is that some of your great training gains are made when working already fatigued muscles. Similar to compression socks there are times I want sore muscles, and I want my body and mind to adapt to those situations. As I said before swimming in the pool will provide a similar benefit as the water is usually cooler.
I am not a huge proponent of taking supplements in place of real nutrition. I prefer to get everything my body needs from clean whole sources of food. That being said the extremes I to which I push take a heavy toll. Even though I do not race a ton, focus on rest, and take ample off-time in between races and at the end of the season, I still smash my body and immune system pretty hard. Here is a list of the supplements I take, as well as the why, and how often/much.
Fish Oil – I take a fish oil supplement that is 1 gram of pure EPA harvested from deep water Pacific fish. There are two main components to fish oil EPA and DHA. EPA has been shown to have the greatest anti-inflammatory affect, as well as greater health benefits. This is the reason my choice is a pure EPA source. I take 2 capsules (2 grams) on a daily basis during normal base training or activity. When I start to reach peak training volume or pre and post-race I will up that to 3 grams a day. I have found that this amount aids in recovery and helps with the inflammation process. Not only do my muscles feel better quicker but my blood tests show a reduced amount inflammation. As a side note I also eat fish at least 2-3 times a week.
CAPRAFLEX – Sticking with the anti-inflamatory theme, I will also take CapraFlex during hard training cycles, pre, and post-race. CapraFlex is a blend of natural ingredients (Collagen, Goats Milk, Ginger, Bromelain, Amylase, protease, turmeric, and others) which aids in reducing inflammation, protecting and enhancing joints, and speeds muscle recovery. The standard serving is 9 caplets (3x3 times a day) which is the dosage I will stick to during a heavy training cycle. Pre and post-race I vary that a bit and load dose the supplement. I will start at least 7 days out, from a race, taking 12 capsules a day (4x3 times). The morning of a race I will take 6 capsules, then immediately after the race I will take 6 more, and I follow this with 6 before bed. I will then do another week of 4x3 times a day. Again this is only a supplement I take during heavy training, racing, or if I were to sprain or pull something to aid in recovery.
Multi-Vitamin – I know the jury is out on whether this is a needed supplement if you eat a balanced and clean diet, but I would rather error on the side of caution. There are times I really put my body through hell and this just gives me piece of mind that my bases are covered. Worse case is that I expel the unneeded vitamins and minerals and end up with expensive urine.
Magnesium – When I began to run longer it wasn’t long before I started to get cramps in very weird parts of my body. These areas were not at all involved in running such as; my cheek, eyelid, or forearm. After speaking with several of my friends who are endurance athletes themselves as well as registered dietitians I was told to try supplement with Magnesium. This is something that most endurance athletes are deficient in and can be a cause of muscle issues. I tried and low and behold the systemic cramping ceased. I take 2 Magnesium Chloride pills a day, every day, regardless of training or racing.
Vitamin D3 – I live in Wisconsin (maybe 100 days of sun a year), not Colorado (300+ days of sun a year). Because the sun disappears for long portions of time my body’s ability to naturally produce Vitamin D is hampered. Also nutritional sources will not adequately supply my daily needs. A vitamin D deficiency is a serious health risk, for both your heart and your muscles. (Imagine that, your heart is a muscle) I take 2 x 1000mg Vit D3 pills a day. My multi-vitamin also contains some Vit D so I am close to 3000mg. I do this anytime I am void of sun exposure. During the summer months where I am running shirtless for long periods I will drop that to 1 pill a day.
LISTENING TO YOUR BODY
I know I should have placed this first, as it is the #1 way you can recover effectively to maintain consistent training and productive races. But just as most runners/endurance athletes will admit, (or fail to admit) this is a very difficult task to master. It is made even more difficult if the race you are running or training for is a new distance or terrain. Take me for instance; I went from racing 5 miles on the road to 50 miles on the trail. (Hey they both have a 5 in them right!) I had zero idea how to train for a 50 mile race and it was really hard for me to listen to my body and not train when it needed a rest. I had silly thoughts of not finishing the race, being last, or it just hurting really bad. Well guess what they are ultras they all hurt, A LOT, at some point. The sign of a confident, mature runner is one who can show up to a group run and a few minutes in completely bag it, return to the car, and have the food and beer ready for their friends. This is an ideal I strive towards. I have gotten better at listening to my body, I am no longer afraid to miss or change workouts depending on how I am feeling. I still struggle with bailing on friends as I get very few opportunities to train with people, but everyone has to have something to works towards right?
I hope you found this article, as well as the previous two, informative. I by no means have all, or even a few, of the answers to the questions related to optimal raining, nutrition, and recovery. But as I learn more I found that my greatest asset was my lack of fear of change, and my willingness to experiment. Hey, you never know what will work unless you try! I have failed, a lot, and will continue to do so. But I believe my greatest insights and training gains have come from some of my biggest failures. Please feel free to comment below on any methods you have used to bolster your training, nutrition, or enhance you recovery.
Like always go find your trail and enjoy it!