In the past I have often had my only injuries in the recovery period following a run. This has included putting my back out, hurting my knee, hip out of alignment…the list goes on. It has taken a number of years and too many injuries for my own liking to learn the lesson that a well-planned recovery period is as critical as the actual strategy during the race itself. A lot that has been written about the recovery period, and it is worth reviewing some of the thoughts on this while planning your own recovery period. Hal Higdon has a great article on post-marathon recovery that is worth a read as a start.
There are a few key aspects that I consider when planning my recovery:
Running again. I do not run for a few days at least after the run. How long I rest the running legs for depends entirely on the race I have run. Shorter races that are for speed only will permit me to run again within a couple of days. Long races that place extreme and ongoing strain on the body need a bit more. There is a bit of a rule of thumb that suggests a day of recovery for every mile run. In this instance, I have not run for the entire week. Not even to catch a bus. It always feels a little odd as I am so much in the routine of running, but a running break is a good thing to help recovery.
This does not mean do no exercise at all. It is equally as important to keep moving as it is to rest the legs, otherwise everything seizes up. So my week was full of gym and cross training work. I went to body pump, did core work, weights work and also went to my favourite boxing class again (and have the bruised knuckles to prove it). Today (Sunday), I will be cross-country skiing in Dinner Plain, and will start running again this week from Wednesday morning – slowly but surely, and only short stuff.
Feeding to assist recovery. I am a big fan of Teresa Cutter’s work. She recently posted an article on sports recovery, and the nutrient considerations that should be taken into account. It is worth a read, and I strongly recommend incorporating some of this in any recovery planing: http://www.thehealthychef.com/2013/07/sports-recovery-better-stronger-faster/.
In the first moments after the run when I crossed the line, I headed straight for the fluids. Water and electrolytes please! I also had what tasted like the most flavoursome banana in the world. I am sure it was not. They were segments of banana still in the skin, about 2 inches in length and a bit brown from being out in open tubs for runners to easily access. I am sure if I had eaten the segments at any other time they may have tasted a little slimy, and even a little manky. However when you are deprived of nutrients for hours on end (I can’t eat lots when I run – I nibble on protein bars and consume some gels), anything tastes like it is the best thing you have ever eaten! EVER!
And then it is cake time! Yes yes yes. After each long run I usually go and have a skim milk hot chocolate (sometimes soy milk if I am just making it at home) and some cakey-thing. During the ultra I lost over 2.6kg on the day, so there was room for a bit of cake. However after that I was a little smarter about what went into my body. Lots and lots of fluids. Dinner was baked salmon with a large green salad and beetroot. I did have a glass of red wine as well, but just one. I never feel like drinking much alcohol after a long run, and in fact the more intensively I train, the less I drink (the body doesn’t like trying to run long distances a bit hung over or slightly dehydrated), so more than one glass or two of anything is a bit of a rarity these days.
During the week I consumed a lot of nuts and seeds – predominantly walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds – as snacks by themselves and incorporated into other meals such as salads, in my breakfast etc. Protein was high on the agenda. Any smoothies made included extra protein powder, and I made the Teresa Cutter energy smoothie a couple of times, but without the orange. I also ate kangaroo a couple of times as well as seafood and legumes, all accompanied by lots of greens!
Massage. I made sure I had a massage scheduled for a couple of days after the run. My masseur, Rupert, was quite surprised with how my body had pulled up considering I had run the ultra, two marathons and a lot more in the preceding month and a half. He did note that my quads were a little tight and suggested that I keep working with my foam roller during the week. Oh yeah. That green thing and I have a very strong love-hate relationship, which became even closer this past week.
The mental game. Sometimes after the adrenalin has gone, and the immediate post-run enjoyment and reflections have started to fade, I can become a bit melancholy and even get the post-run blues a bit. Staying mentally active and starting to plan new or different things helps me to keep that at bay a bit. Luckily I am full swing into the semester at uni and have been meeting with other researchers in the food waste area, so had a lot to look forward to on that front. Also, my friend Stacey is coming to Melbourne in October to run the Melbourne half marathon and I have agreed to run it with her, so I needed to start to plan my training for that. These two distractions gave me positive things to engage my brain with as well as new goals to look forward to – both of which have staved off the post-run blues quite a bit.
What next? A lot of people have asked me ‘what next?’ For those who know me well, you will be aware that every few years I like to do something that pushes me well beyond my comfort zone. This year it was the Tan Ultra. Last time it was being part of the crew on the Endeavour for the passage from Albany to Port Lincoln (that adventure could be its own entire blog! An incredible and life changing experience!). Prior to that it was cycling and camping from Adelaide to Canberra (1233kms). The list goes on.
Why do I like to challenge myself in this way? Behaviour change theory suggests that it is through significant interventions that lessons can be learned and behaviour can change. This does require me to be receptive and open to the lesson, of course. So I find that significant challenges introduced at certain periods of my life help me to grow. Sometimes the lessons I learn about myself are a bit of an awakening, as I know I am not a shining beacon of light, but at least they also provide the opportunity to change and improve myself.
So, in short, I do not know ‘what next’ as yet.
Will I ever run another ultra? Quite likely. I loved all of the very long runs. I think the 45km run in London was one of my favourite runs I have ever done. Will I ever have a crack at a 100km. No idea. I know how much training is involved for a 50km run, so can appreciate that it is incredibly more for a ton. I am sure if I planned it out and focussed myself I could do it. Whether I want to or not may be another story.
Time will tell.