Recovery – that all important third element of race training and the one which I think most of us probably get most messed up.
The traditional rule of recovery, and the rule which is still the gold standard is one day’s rest for every mile raced.
Following a marathon that’s 26 days of putting your feet up, which for every elite runner worth his sub 2:20 time is most definitely deserved. Elites don’t head out to a race every weekend but follow a carefully structured plan which sees them peak every three months or so at most. I’m not so sure many of them have 26 days downtime, but they definitely back off following a big race.
Running ultras also means most of us would spend more time resting than actually running particularly when heading into the plus 60 mile race range. If I’d followed this rule post 100-mile I’d be in the midst of getting-plump-while-plonked-on-my-backside-session.
But what to do? Well, I think intensity has to come into the answer. An elite running a marathon to win is running real hard, an amateur running their first or second marathon, or first time at that distance is also probably running real hard (for them), as is a definite pb-er… but there’s also the recreational entrant who probably isn’t running flat out (for them). The higher the intensity the longer the body will need to recover.
Yes, I was knackered post 100 mile race but I wasn’t suffering from the muscle fatigue I associate with a ‘fast’ race. My bones were all shook up – well my right big toe was – but there was no aching-ly annoying DOMS.
But I think the line of intensity is probably pretty thin, a very personal thing, is affected by a number of outside influences and involves a big chunk of art as well as science.
A short, sharp race for me, say a sub 1:35 half, and my legs are in bits for the next week or so. I literally cannot go down stairs. Trot out a 1:36+ and they are fine. That’s how narrow my line is…and ask me to run any 5km with gusto and I’m beat up for days (But that’s due to different muscle types and a whole different topic 🙂 )
What I’m trying to say, is that recovery is personal and flexible. You’ve got to see how it feels and be ready to back track and take more rest if your body requests it.
Following the 100 miler I jumped on a flight to Spain and had four days total rest – I slept for most of it and if I’m honest a month later am still requiring more sleep than I did pre-100 miler. On the fifth day I needed supplies, so donned my runners and back pack and trotted down to the next village. It’s about a 9km round trip with pretty substantial elevation change – we’re at the top of the mountain – and took me well over 90 mins excluding my shop visits. I can usually do this route in nearer to 40 mins. My legs were tired, my heart rate all over the place, and I walked all the ups.
The following day I headed out on our local 7km run-and-a-lot-of-walk route such is the gradient and my heart rate was more stable, my legs strong, but I still walked all the ups.
I could easily have rested…but surrounded by stunning trails I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to get out there albeit slowly. With cooler temperatures in Spain, I simply packed my waterproofs in my pack, loaded up with food and water for the day, and ran/hiked my way over some familiar and newly discovered paths and trails, walking all the ups.
It was a magical way to get some R&R, never being afraid to run very slowly and walk when I wanted to, losing myself in a sea of olive groves. I knew the desert was beckoning soon so I wanted to enjoy seeing the summer slide into autumn in Spain.
Ten days later I was back in Qatar, and my energy levels getting back to normal. Was it the right way to recover? Probably not, and I should maybe have rested more but I feel okay, so I guess it worked for me this time.