Rest is training, too. Everyone needs rest and recovery, both physically and mentally. For me and my training, I take recovery pretty seriously. Physiologically speaking, growth only happens through rest and repair. Most of the time it’s like a set of stairs, in that you don’t always let yourself fully recover before working out again until it’s time to taper.
I have at least one day a week that is completely workout-free and usually work-free. I don’t use run streaks as part of my training because I’m not physiologically on board with them, though I understand there’s a mental factor in the reasoning behind it.
There are a few basic recovery principles I use besides rest. After all, rest is only a small part of recovery.
After a long and/or hard effort, I’ll usually do a recovery run the next day. It helps keep the blood flowing through those tired, achy muscles desperate for nutrients.
Speaking of nutrients, fueling is crucial. Know what you’re going to have after your workout before you start. There’s two different windows I try to hit. The first is within 20 minutes post workout – the sooner the better. I opt for a carb/fluid/electrolyte focus (VegaSport Recovery Accelerator). The second window is between 60-90 minutes after my workout, with a protein shake (VegaSport Protein).
If I have a muscle or tendon that’s starting to nag or I’m just really sore, I’ll apply a comfrey ointment or other herbal lotions.
I try to set aside time set aside for foam rolling and use of other self-care tools for at least 20 minutes every night (with the exception of my rest day). I use foam rollers, tennis balls, a thumper, cupping therapy, a lacrosse ball, Roll Recovery R8, and various others that I’ve accumulated over the years.
I do get at least two professional massages per month, partly due to my job, but I think it’s important for athletes, too. You can do a lot yourself, but nothing beats someone else doing it for you.
Getting a good sleep regularly has been a struggle for me since…well, since I graduated high-school and started to adult. Part of it is my personality. I tend to stress and be more anxious than I have to be. But sleep is the body’s time to repair, and it’s crucial to a high-intensity active lifestyle.
Recovery is a lot of work – that’s why I consider it 50% of training. There’s a lot of different and conflicting methods of recovery out there, but everyone has something. Find what works for you and make recovering just as important as the rest of your training.
Can you tell Bones was one of my favorite TV shows? If you don’t understand, then never mind.
I N F L A M M A T I O N. It seems to have worked its way into the athletes four-letter word category (despite its twelve-letter length). Coming out of an injury, inflammation has been on my mind. I’ve always been skeptical of all the health and wellness information out there, and it’s one of those areas in my life where I won’t jump on the band wagon just because there’s research and “facts” to back up whatever it is someone is telling me. Mainly, it’s because humans are so diversified and continue to diversify even more as time goes on, but also because one could find research to back up whatever they want these days.
You’ve at least heard by now that inflammation is at the root of almost all diseases, and most people won’t argue that. I however, am not most people. Let’s back up to simply defining what inflammation is – the body’s natural response to fight off infection or heal a tissue trauma. Because I’m mainly talking about sports and athletic health, let’s focus on the latter. Inflammation increases blood flow to the traumatized area(s) to bring in more nutrients from the food you ate to help heal the damaged area. So when I’m injured, why would I want to stop this process?
Ice, ice, baby. I hate the cold, I always have, but that’s not why I stay away from icing aches, immersing in ice baths, or take part in the latest cryotherapy chamber trend. After intense exercise, I jump into a hot bath to relax fatigued muscles and yes, increase inflammation because I’m also making sure I’m eating nutrients my body needs to heal, recover, and build. I want those nutrients to get where they need to go quickly. And that is why I don’t believe anti-inflammatory foods (another hot topic) are a real thing. Could foods labeled as such simply contain the nutrients necessary for healing and coincidentally reduce the need for the body’s inflammatory response?
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES. BEETS. SALMON. WALNUTS. COCONUT OIL. BLUEBERRIES. TART CHERRY JUICE. PINEAPPLE. BROCCOLI. CELERY. BOK CHOY. CHIA SEEDS. TUMERIC. GINGER. FLAXSEEDS.
We do things and eat foods everyday that initiate an inflammation response – even the quality of the air we breathe and the lack of sleep we get. We counteract all these daily stressors by eating good food. Chronic inflammation and disease occur when the body consistently doesn’t get the nutrients it needs.
I’m only offering you my thoughts on the matter. Continue to do what you think is best, and what seems to be working for you. My only plea is that you think twice before you follow any health and fitness advice, even if it’s mainstream.
NOTE: There are emergency circumstances where inflammation really is bad for your long term health (i.e. spreading a localized infection, swelling cutting off circulation to another body part, etc.). Also, I would say that sometimes taking NSAIDs or painkillers would put your body through less stress in the long run than letting it suffer through pain. It’s an individual threshold matter.
It hadn’t even been a week yet since my marathon scramble, and I found myself expecting to still have some sort of speed in me. There wasn’t any. One mile at goal pace, and the rest was all “downhill” from there. I continued to push into labored breathing to at least use the race as a training run. I am not naturally fast, so speed is the first thing to go when I’m unable to train for an extended period of time. It’s similar to someone trying to lose weight – the area you want most to disappear is the last to go and the first to come back. Well for me, fast legs are last to come and first to leave.
The second race of three in the series, I knew what to expect from the course and the competition. The weather was colder than it had been, so I ended up racing in an extra layer I had intended to shed beforehand. I should have stuck to the “less is best” rule because after starting I got too warm. After that first mile, I settled into third and tried my best to hang on to that. A fellow (male) runner pulled me through halfway and then I pulled him through the last few miles and we finished together.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t perform, I’m happy that my foot is still fine and by the end of the week I’ll be back to my regular training schedule. There will be plenty more races this spring/summer/fall that I’ll be able to challenge last year’s personal bests when I’m ready. Onward.
Let’s back up to three (ish) months before my goal race last year, the NYC Marathon. I was thinking about my 2018 race plans and and schedules and what I want to accomplish even a decade down the road and decided to enter BOTH the Carlsbad Marathon and Surf City Marathon BECAUSE they were three weeks apart. These races were for data mining purposes – to see what my body could do racing marathons so close together and feel out what recovery was like. I had hoped to PR and break three hours at New York, so Carlsbad and Surf City were not meant to be part of a personal best pyramid. However, I didn’t break three hours at New York, and then I became injured two weeks before Carlsbad, so…
The marathon will never be what you think, even if you’ve done it a dozen times, or executed the perfect race strategy, or had the best training cycle. It remains unpredictable. I like to register for races far in advance, not just for the price break, but mainly because I want to watch the already-paid-for obligation come at me. Ready or not, give what you’ve got, and possibly more. That’s part of the competition. You don’t get to choose your perfect day to run your best race.
It had been six years since I’d had a real running injury and I was scared. I had these two marathons back to back with a slew of shorter races immediately after and I didn’t know how I was going to make them all happen. It hurt to walk, to stand. I took the entire week off running before Carlsbad, knowing that it wouldn’t hurt my fitness much, but coming to terms with the possibility that I might not be able to finish. Towards the end of the week, I was able to walk mostly pain free, but it was still pretty stiff. On race morning I was hesitant, but still wanted to go for it. I don’t regret that decision. For the first few miles the pain was there, but very mild. Around mile 6, it started to get worse and then at mile 9, the other foot/leg started compensating. Suddenly there were two figures talking to me, one on each shoulder. On the right, was my Midwest, stubborn grit mindset screaming “NO! You do NOT quit! Embrace the pain, and finish what you started! OHIO GROWN!” On the left, was my California hippie intuitive spirit saying, “Heeeeyy…you need chill. Let your body heal, ya know? Make the exit, you’ll be fine. You don’t wanna miss out on what’s to come. But whatever man, you do you.”
I considered my options, and decided to drop out, a little ways after mile 11. It was my first DNF. I wasn’t willing to let this injury progress, and rob me of future miles and races. It was hard, and I still felt awful about it, but I knew I had made the right choice. I took the following week off running and started my recovery strategies.
Alright, three weeks later I’m heading back to San Diego to attempt the Surf City Marathon. I had been able to start running, and without pain, but in the five weeks leading up to this race I had run ten times totaling a mere 80 miles. I was NOT ready. But my foot felt pretty good, and I worked up enough confidence to convince myself to at least test it out. Running a marathon following an injury is a really stupid idea, I get that, but as long as my foot would stay okay, I could still get some of that data I wanted. It would just be a different kind – the kind you get when you run a race you haven’t trained for.
My strategy to was run like it was my first marathon. I predicted I would maintain a comfortable pace until mile 20, and then fall apart on tired, heavy, unconditioned legs. If my foot remained pain-free, nutrition and hydration were good, and the weather stayed fine, my time goal was a sub 3:20. I couldn’t race, I knew that, so to help keep my focus on just running and having fun, I put tape over my Garmin and didn’t wear my usual race outfit. My prediction was spot on. My 5k split was a 7:02 pace, 10k at 7:04, halfway at 7:05, and 20 at 7:05, and then I blew up. My fueling and hydration felt good, and it wasn’t a particular muscle group that was bothering me, it was just everything. Everything hurt. I knew it was because my muscles weren’t prepped for the distance, and that was okay. My foot felt COMPLETELY fine and I was so happy with that. But again, shortly after mile 20 two figures popped up on each shoulder. One said, “Duuuuude…why are you so tense? Relax, you’re not racing. Your foot is fine, thanks to me by the way, so just take a break already. Walk a little. You’ll finish, that’s all you wanted, right?” The other said, “DON’T! You are SO close! You do NOT need to walk, you’re not hurting anything you KEEP RUNNING! Break and build! This is you breaking! You need to break yourself today! You don’t quit you don’t stop until you’re done! GO!”
This time, I knew to let the inner grit and determination embedded in my bones surface and push me through. I slowed the pace my a lot, but I kept running. I crossed the finish line and I swear it felt like I lost my marathon virginity for the second time. It was amazing. At first, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that being in as much pain as I was just a few weeks prior, I finished a marathon without any! It was my proudest marathon. I was proud of myself for dropping out of Carlsbad, for not getting too discouraged about recovery, and for not stopping to walk at the end.
Of course I got my data and insight for training, but like I said at the beginning of this post, the marathon is not what you think. I learned that my mind really needed a break from competing. I love to race, and compete, and try to teach my legs to run fast, but just like physical recovery is part of the training program, mental recovery needs to be in there, too. It doesn’t have to be nearly as often, but it needs to exist. I felt mentally refreshed after this “fun run” and found the rejuvenated eagerness train and race hard that I didn’t even know I lost.
COLD! My first race in Utah and it was 30 something degrees. There were plenty of runners in shorts and a tank top, but I was clearly the wimp with my full leggings, long sleeve mock neck top, gloves, and ear warmer – and I was still cold.
The Salt Lake City Track club puts on a three-race winter series with a 5k, 10k, and 15k each two weeks apart. The course(s) are flatter than a fritter. I signed up for the series months ago, before my foot injury, so I had to significantly lower my expectations for myself. I had barely been able to run in the weeks leading up to it, so really all I wanted to do was get through it pain free.
During my warm up I felt a few twinges, but by the time everyone was lining up, I was starting to feel better about my foot. My first mile was alright, 5:56, but then my lungs were screaming no. Not only had I not been able to train but that also meant my lungs hadn’t been able to adapt to the elevation change either. 4,200 feet is a lot different than 200. My second and third splits were 6:23 and 6:26. What my legs never felt in burn was made up for in my lungs. I am out of shape and unconditioned, but my foot remained pain free, and I was/am pretty happy with that.
Banana bread doesn’t have to be on your “do not eat” list when you’re training hard for a race. If you make it with the right ingredients, it can actually be a runner’s superfood! Bananas, of course, have many health benefits, but some key nutrients are potassium, vitamin B6, managanese, magnesium, and yes, even a little vitamin C. Coconut oil is an immune booster, having antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid, and capryilc acid which have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Yogurt (cow’s milk) is a complete protein, with calcium and probiotics. Cinnamon works as an anti-inflammatory and is high in antioxidants. Below is a recipe that I use:
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup whole milk greek yogurt
1/2 cup agave nector, honey, OR pure maple syrup
1 cup mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups of flour (I use, 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup coconut flour, and 1/4 cup sprouted rye flour, or some other random grain flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
If you want, you can add chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, sliced almonds, dried blueberries, etc. Use your own judgement on how much you want in there.
Grease/spray baking dish(es) and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients except whatever additive you decide to use (if any).
Make sure all ingredients are mixed thoroughly, then stir in additive.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes.
This recipe makes two loaves, but you can also use an 8×8 baking pan. If you do, try baking it at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes instead.
I use frozen bananas (thawed) because they are much easier to mush. But because they are cold, they tend to harden the coconut oil, making it impossible to mix. So what I do, is heat up the oil on low in a sauce pan with the bananas and get that mixture warm before stirring it into the rest of the batter.
The batter is kind of thick, so you’ll probably need to smooth out the top with a spatula before you put it in the oven.
This is a great post-run, second breakfast meal. It has the carbs to replenish your body and fuel to move on to the rest of your day. It’s calorie dense, but filled with very useful calories. You can also use it as an alternative to common baked goods, if you’re slowly trying to step away from the sweets. If you add chocolate chips, it definitely could pass as a dessert, and then all you have to feel guilty about is the chocolate. Ha! Enjoy.