How I Recover from Long Distance Racing
What Needs Recovery:
- Muscle Soreness/Damage
- Glycogen Depletion
- Mental/Nervous System
- Stress Response
These are the elements of recovery. The difference in length and intensity between a race and a regular workout affects recovery. A long run that goes further than ever before will need more recovery than an easy run you’ve done a million times. A race that puts you at threshold for an extended time requires more recovery than an interval workout. Work or family stress impacts training and racing, requiring more recovery. Here’s what I learned about recovery recently.
The longer or more intense the workout, the more fatigue produced. The more volume over days, the more fatigue accumulates. This fatigue must be “unloaded” in order to move forward. This can happen voluntarily by taking time off, easy days, or getting more rest, or your body can force it on you with illness or injury. I’ve neglected fatigue, covered it up with caffeine, and run myself into the ground. The best solution I’ve found for fatigue is passive recovery, emphasizing quantity and quality of sleep.
Muscle Soreness and Damage:
Cycling doesn’t leave me as sore as running. Triathlon is worse than running alone. So after a short cross country race or regular long run, the soreness isn’t bad. I can train easy until recovered. But a trail race or triathlon can leave me so sore that walking is uncomfortable. That’s where I am now after XTERRA. I have had to take three days off with walking as my only exercise while my muscles heal themselves. Soon I will add some yoga and foam rolling, but to this point I’ve been too sore. I experimented with amino acid and proteolytic enzyme supplements to help speed recovery, and believe I have benefitted.
This is easy. Following the starch based diet of Dr. McDougall makes replenishing storage muscle glycogen as simple as following my appetite. Most of us have heard of the “window” of opportunity following a workout where enzymes peak, making glycogen replenishment easier. I can tell when I’m depleted by my low energy level and high appetite. Those two factors tell me when I’m recovered. The day after long glycogen depleting races, I’m hungry more often. Then, as I recover, my appetite decreases due to less activity, even though I am still sore. Using the Maffetone Method for training helps as well, since I have trained my body to rely more on fat for fuel. Before Maffetone, I would be really wiped out after a long ride. I could literally feel my recovery progress along hour by hour as I ate more. By using more fat as fuel during exercise and eating a high starch diet, I recover faster. Taking in calories during the workout or race helps, because then there is less that must be replenished.
Often I’ve felt like my body was recovered, but my mind was unwilling to go on. There are some possibilities for why this might be: depleted neurotransmitters, hormone imbalance, low levels of amino acids, or just lack of fuel. From my experience, it seems to be tied directly to glycogen depletion. Since the brain runs almost exclusively on carbohydrate, if levels get too low, the brain puts on the brakes to conserve energy. As my storage carbohydrate returns to normal, I can feel my brain come back online.
Overall Stress Response:
The body’s stress response gets engaged by non-physical events. Which is why someone can be so tired by mentally demanding, yet sedentary work, or emotionally stressful circumstances. This same stress response is responsible for getting you ready for another race or workout. The mistake I’ve made in the past is not considering life stress as equivalent to training or racing. I’ve always thought, “Hey, exercise relieves stress, right?” Well, yes, and no. My recent race at Laguna Seca, the Hammerstein, showed me this phenomena very clearly. School had ended only two days prior, and while I had decreased training to rest, the life stress had peaked. I had a very tough race. One week later, with school stress gone, I raced better. Any stress reduction techniques could help here. I think the best option is meditation, because one has the potential to learn how to control the stress response and decrease the energy cost by retraining the brain.
I think I’ve finally gotten a firm grip an what needs recovery, and some good techniques to use. A little research and using myself as an experiment of one with three weeks of big races have taught me a lot. What do you do for recovery? Any secrets or effective protocols?