Monday, August 9, 2010

Rethinking recovery

Or, perhaps I should just say thinking about recovery.

When I wrote up my current training plan a couple weeks ago, I did the unthinkable--included a full rest day every two or three weeks. That means complete exercise rest without any kind of workout.

Mostly, I am a fan of active recovery. I do like to allow plenty of non-running time in my week, but I usually fill that with elliptical training or sometimes another kind of cross-training. Even on a day where I want to rest up for a race the next day, I'll probably do something unless the race is really important to me (as in, I am seeking a PR) or it is super intense, like a marathon. I'll admit, it makes me a little edgy to go without any exercise in a day.

But lately, as I've been dabbling with almost-injury (sore ankle and achilles tendon flare-ups) and potential burn-out (slower race times, more negative thoughts about running), I have decided to cut my body a little slack now and then. I have certain rest days on my schedule but I am prepared to be flexible with either adding more (as needed) or switching back to some kind of activity on a scheduled rest day. If there's something fun to do, and I feel like doing it, I will. On the other hand, if I hurt too much, or even if I am just too tired (within reason), I will give myself a break.

But rest days are just the first part of the recovery revolution. Part two is working on the aches and pains, hopefully to make them disappear.

Yesterday Rod and I put the Boston Whaler in the water at his parents' beach. What this means is Rod backed in the trailer and released the boat, then I stood in the water and held onto the boat while he parked the truck and trailer at his parents' house and walked back. Then, after we finished our outing, I held the boat while he got the truck. Each time involved me standing in the water for at least 10-15 minutes. In the cold, salt water. Just call it a mini-ice bath!

Now, let me assure you the water was nowhere as cold as it would be with actual ice in it. But it was pretty cold by anyone's measure. And I think I am tougher than most because I grew up swimming in Puget Sound. I thought it was actually pretty mild yesterday.

But I swear to you, my ankle and the rest of my legs below the knee felt quite rejuvenated from the soaking! I didn't even mind standing there for so long because a short dip would hardly do anything. I actually had an urge to immerse my entire body in the cold water, but didn't because 1) I didn't have enough change of clothes with me, 2) it really would have been cold and not nearly as pleasurable as I was imagining, and 3) the neighbors watching us with the boat would have thought I was nuts. They probably already did, when they asked if my legs were getting cold and I said no, it felt good! I probably should have explained that I had achy legs from running 16.67 miles. Then they would have thought I was really bad-ass and not just crazy.

Much later that night I also forced myself to take an epsom salt (hot) bath before bed, to soak out the rest of my body. I say forced myself because by the time evening rolls around, I never want to take the trouble of running a bath and getting myself wet; I just want to go to bed. And that's what I usually do.

But I am going to make a concerted effort to give my foot and ankle more ice water soaks (or at least ice compresses), at least for the next few weeks until my ankle feels less tender. And I'm going to take more baths.

Recovery part three is basic, and should help in all aspects of my life: get more sleep. I think that speaks for myself. I am working toward that goal by forcing myself to turn off the TV at 10 every night. (No more Seinfeld!) Then I can read as long as I want...but it rarely takes long before the book is falling out of my hand and I am turning off the light. Unlike watching TV, where I may doze off and leave the TV flickering for hours...not quality sleep. (After I master the 10:00 thing, maybe I'll look at moving it back further so I can get an actual 8 hours!)

Finally, part four comes from a couple of articles in this month's Running Times. The online version has a few additional items that I might peruse, but I think you need to have the print version to read this current stuff. The first article is called "Work the Recovery," on page 24. This article addresses the best way to structure your run to maximize recovery, including fueling (before, during and after) and hydration. I'll probably need to study it more to see how it would help me, and I don't want to try to summarize and misspeak. So I would just recommend getting a copy of the magazine and reading it (there's other good stuff there too).

The second article talks about the time frame for gaining benefit from hard workouts, and the relative scheduling of different kinds of workouts to get the most benefit without over-straining your body. There's even a handy little chart showing types of workouts, time you should wait before another similar workout, and what to do the day before and day after.

Applying that to my weekend (10K on Saturday, long run on Sunday), I would characterize my 10K as a "threshhold" workout (even though the 10K wasn't ideally fast, it certainly was at least a tempo run). The chart recommends a recovery run or speed development (intervals) the day before, and a recovery run, speed development or easy long run the day after. What I did: recovery run two days before, "easy" long run day after (I'm calling it "easy" because of the pace--physically it was not easy!). Again, you really need to actually see the chart to get a complete picture.

I think that pretty much covers it, for now. I will add that I do think that food and diet probably play a part in recovery as well (and I will be rereading that part of the Running Times article) but mostly my diet is so healthy, high in antioxidants and Omega 3's and all that jazz, that I don't see any need to reform that part of my life (except for the ways I've already addressed). Fueling for runs is a work in progress, still, but it seems to be working okay.

Oh, one post-final thing. I am thinking of tweaking my training plan again this week and taking off the hill repeats on Wednesday. I would most likely replace them with the failed 800's from last week. Not because I feel compelled to make up the 800's as much as because I am a little concerned that hill intervals might rile up my achilles tendon. I know from running Langley and the pain discomfort I suffered for days afterward, plus just general experiences running up hills, that uphill running aggravates the back of the calf. It's elementary, really, when you consider how much that part of your leg gets stretched going uphill as compared to downhill or flat. If just running up hills at whatever pace is hard on the achilles, imagine what hard running, as I try to do in hill repeats, could do! So I am seriously considering putting hill repeats on the back burner for now.

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