It being January 1, we thought it a good idea to suggest a resolution from for the New Year: prioritizing recovery. To help you with that we have this article by Kristin Barry that first appeared in our Nov/Dec 2013.
In the September/October issue I wrote about running economy and how many runners fail to incorporate simple elements into their training that can improve their efficiency and help them run faster. An even more basic aspect of training that nonetheless gets discounted by many runners is the recovery portion of a training program. Recovery is arguably the most overlooked component of training. Runners spend countless hours focusing on mileage, pace, and nailing workouts. While this is important and warranted, it is crucial to remember that improvements in fitness occur during the recovery period between hard training sessions and not during the hard training itself.
Recovery Is Where Gains Are Made
The (admittedly oversimplified) mechanism by which we become faster operates like this: stress/recovery/stress/recovery. Beneficial physiological adaptations that allow us to run faster happen when the body is stressed and then given time to recover. However, while it is the stress that stimulates such adaptations, it is during the recovery portion that actual improvements and fitness gains are made. Hard efforts produce fatigue and muscle damage, temporarily making us slower and weaker. When the body repairs itself it becomes stronger and improved fitness ultimately results. However, if the stress of a workout or cumulative effect of training is too much and we do not recover before the next hard effort, our performance and ability to benefit from subsequent training stimuli will diminish and instead of becoming more fit we become injured or over-trained.
The concept of allowing one’s body to adequately recover is so simple yet extremely difficult for runners to follow. Most runners would do just about anything to elevate their fitness and run faster, yet they often ignore the very component of running where actual progress is made. Perhaps this is because “recovering” seems contrary to what we’ve been told. Ad campaigns tote “One more” and “Just do it.” Not too many endorse recovering properly. If you ignore recovery (and you’re not alone — I have to remind myself and the team that I coach about this daily) and need to make it more of a priority, below are a few ways to keep yourself in check and make sure you are permitting and encouraging recovery and allowing the ensuing beneficial adaptations to take place.
Keep Easy Days Easy
Resist the urge to hammer every run. Even when you are feeling particularly good on an easy run, hold back and think about the big picture and the progress that you will make by allowing your body to absorb the hard training you have already done and the hard training that is to come. It may seem counterintuitive and counterproductive, but you will be better positioned to reach your goals by going slower and easier on your recovery runs.
Remember that you do not have to smash your workouts to achieve the desired goal of the workout. You reap the same benefits from running an appropriate time, not the fastest time you can possibly hit. Faster does not always equal better, especially if faster means a prolonged, hindered recovery. As a wise running friend always reminds me, “Just because you can do a workout does not mean that you should do a workout.” You must balance the stress of training with the adaptations that make you stronger, fitter, and faster.
Eat Something Immediately after Running
Your body is especially adept at taking in nutrients for two hours after you finish running. Take advantage of this by having something ready to eat and drink immediately after you finish. A small snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein will speed along recovery and help your body repair muscular damage, maximize glycogen synthesis, and replenish depleted fuel stores, all important for optimal recovery. Also, to recover properly it is crucial that the body is adequately hydrated, so focus on taking in enough fluids for the next few hours after you finish running.
Sleep and Other Non-Running Parts of Your Day
While most of us cannot nap daily or recover like professional athletes, we can make a few small changes to promote better recovery. Take a few minutes to stretch or foam roll tired or sore areas after your run, before bed, or even at your desk during the day. Try to get to bed fifteen minutes earlier than normal or sleep in a little bit longer on a day where your schedule permits. During sleep the body releases human growth hormone which helps repair the damage we have inflicted during our workouts. Finally, pay attention to the fuel you are putting into you body and eat high-quality, nutrient dense meals when you can.
Kristin Barry is an Olympic Marathon trialist who races for Dirigo.
To read more from the Nov/Dec 2013 issue, click here.
To read more from our current issue, click here.