Ahh… The Many Pleasures of Passive Recovery

Three days after a disastrous race that lasted over eight hours (I’m still processing why I feel good about a disaster) I feel ready to head back out on the trails and train for the next one. I used a little active recovery, which meant walking the dog, but mainly I recovered. And ate. And ate some more. My heart rate monitor estimated that I expended over 4,000 calories during the race. And because of serious GI issues, I didn’t eat much that day. So the strategy was Passive Recovery. I modeled my behavior on the dog.  She is nearly always very well recovered and rested. And fed.

Passive Recovery

These are techniques that take minimal effort, and are designed to enhance rest. Passive is the key word. Set it up and rest. You only get stronger while recovering. Sleep is the most important aspect, but there are other ways to increase the amount of rest.

Let’s see how Passive Recovery can affect the main recovery issues:


Nothings beats feeling tired like a nap right? Fatigue exists on both physical and mental levels, and sleep is the most powerful way to deal with it. Don’t get enough quality sleep and all manner of health problems manifest. Or you could go temporarily insane.

Muscle Soreness and Damage

The body heals itself constantly, and that includes muscles beat down by racing. But we can’t consciously control the process, so the best strategy is just get out of the way. Improving delta sleep, the deepest level, seems to be the best way to help with tissue repair.

Mental Performance

It’s not just the muscles that take a beating from a race, the brain does too. Stress hormones rise and stay up for quite awhile. The need to concentrate fatigues the brain considerably even when not physically active. Add this brain drain to muscles that are fading, and plenty of sleep is needed. Improving the dreaming part of sleep, REM sleep, where theta brain waves predominate may help the brain process all the day’s experiences into the appropriate memories. Think about all the cognitive effort of a race as well as all the strong emotions. The subconscious has serious work to do, and it needs the conscious to step down for awhile.

Glycogen Depletion

If you don’t move around much, you don’t need to expend much energy. So the healthy food (and maybe a treat or three) will be stored. Once carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver are restored, the muscles can repair and rebuild, and the brain can relax, no longer sensing a threat to its survival.

Stress Reaction

The stress hormones of a big race are a serious “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system response. A lot of important physiological systems are put on hold. It takes time to rebalance. Perhaps its hormonal, or maybe neurotransmitters are depleted or imbalanced, but the physical organ of the brain needs recovery too. Fortunately, mood is an excellent indicator of recovery. Another very useful tool is to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which gives a good indication of whether the sympathetic “fight or flight” mechanism is in charge or the parasympathetic “relaxation response” system has taken over.

Enough theory.

Here’s How I Put It Into Practice:

  •  Go to bed early. I don’t stress over sleep quality the night after a race. Sometimes it’s like a rock, sometimes not.
  • Take a nap. After long workouts (weekends) or races if possible. I elevate my legs to help blood flow.
  • Meditation/Visualization/Relaxation– I may combine this with a nap, or separately. Invoking a relaxation response and turning off the arousal of a big effort gets the healing going.
  • Compression Gear– My new favorite! Nothing but sleep is more passivethan putting on my compression socks and letting them help my circulation get out the metabolic waste and deliver nutrients. A good rule of thumb appears to be twice as long in your compression gear as time on the trail. Next I’m buying some tights, and when I save enough spare change some active compression boots.

Next up: The Two Most Important Ways to Recover Well


About vegpedlr

Plant powered off-road triathlete

Posted on July 27, 2012, in Racing, Training, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Vegpedlr, sorry to hear about your GI troubles in your race last weekend. I have to admit that the one reason why I have been reluctant to enter races longer than a half marathon is because the additional expenditure of energy in longer races would require me to consume more calories during the race. And I have not wanted to battle with GI issues associated with “eating on the run.”

    8 hour races simply can’t be done without some extra food, perhaps even food that is not McDougall oriented.

    So, when’s your next race? And do you have any thoughts about how to avoid similar GI issues in the future? Is it just a simple thing like getting used to the race day foods? Or do you have to switch the types of foods you consume?

    The QT2 coach, Tim Snow, suggested to anyone running a half marathon to have a Cliff Blocks and eat one of the six gels after every two mile. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and the then the race is over. In my opinion, that’s sounds impractical because I would probably slow down considerably in order to eat/absorb the Cliff Block. I can’t afford 6 breaks.

    That gets to the question of how much one should slow down to eat or drink. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis regarding the benefits of consuming those extra grams of glucose versus the cost of slowing down to consume them and the risk of GI upset. Sound complicated? Maybe that’s why I’m still running half marathons as my longest race.

    Good luck going forward.

    • Full story coming out in my race report soon. The weird thing is that I ate what I normally eat, that is tried and true. But GI distress is common, even striking the pros. There is a big difference between running and cycling when it comes to calories. That’s part of the why the Tour de France is so long. You actually can eat on the bike. But running makes it hard to take much in. The only secret is to try different products and different flavors in training to see what works best. I think it’s best to try to get by with as little as possible, but a lot of people advocate a lot of fuel. I try for about 150 cal an hour on the bike. When running it’s only sports drink. And that’s the reason for strict aerobic training, the more your body can rely on stored fat for fuel, the less you need to eat. Keep runnin”!

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