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Respecting the Recovery

Over my years as an ultrarunner, I’ve learned that the 100-mile distance is one that can really tax the body and requires a lot of quality recovery afterwards.  Sounds obvious, right?  Of course running 100 miles is going to take a lot out of you. But considering that I’ve run many 100-mile races since my debut  in 2014, it’s something that my body has adjusted to and has come to handle quite well.  That said, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned that there are best practices to ensure that recovery goes according to plan and doesn’t create any additional setbacks.  Here are my top-3 pieces of advice for anyone who just completed a tough event (e.g. race, ride, triathlon, hike, etc.) and want to recover as effectively as possible:

  1. Listen to the body.

This is my number one rule!  The reason it’s so important is that it applies differently to everyone, and there is no set play book on what to do.  Quite simply, when you’re returning to training, it’s best to back off when your body is telling you to do so.  Sometimes that means taking extra time off, sometimes it means keeping your effort level easy, and sometimes it means waiting longer than you think to really “push it” again.  I’ve struggled in the past with a quick, almost immediate recovery from a big race.  I’ll think “wow, I feel great!” just a few days post-race, and then that can lead me to jump into training again too quickly.  The feeling of being recovered itself is a great thing, but it’s important not to let that disguise the fact that the deeper recovery and fatigue takes more time to return from.  After running the Western States 100 a little over a month ago, I’ve run only when I really felt like running, and I haven’t forced it.  My body seems to be liking this approach!

  1. Be patient.

I know a lot of people (myself included) who seem to forget that they just ran a big race only a handful of weeks removed from the event.  They will jump back into training (perhaps too quickly-reference my first piece of advice above) and think “why do I feel so slow on this run?” or “why isn’t my body stronger?”  It’s a common feeling to want to compare your body and how you’re feeling to someone else or even yourself at a different point in time, but the fact of the matter is that we need to give ourselves some leeway when it comes to how we’re feeling.  If you aren’t feeling 100%, that’s totally normal!  In fact, it is probably your body’s way of telling you that you shouldn’t get to training too seriously, too soon.  Patience is a virtue, and for committed athletes who are always striving towards the next goal, it’s a tough one to master!

  1. Play the long game.

From the time I got into the sport of ultrarunning, I loved it so much that I knew I wanted it to be both a career and a way of life.  For the second part to be true, I had to be smart about how I approached training, racing, and recovery.  I had to do them all well to continue running races for decades to come.  For me personally, the biggest struggle I had was recognizing that I don’t need to try to do everything all at once! There are so many incredible races and expeditions that exist, and when you’re feeling strong and motivated, it’s easy to overschedule or overcommit to one too many goals.  In prior years I have done that and suffered the consequences via injuries and overtraining.  Now, I still have those same feelings of excitement and prioritizing goals can be tough, but I know that it’s a lifelong journey and if I’m smart about it, I can pursue all of them when the timing is right!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have experienced some of the things I’ve mentioned at one point or another.  If so, just remember: perspective is powerful!  Where you’re currently at in your life may be different than it has been at any other point.  Trust yourself and what your body is telling you, be patient, and know that time is on your side if you play your cards right.  And don’t forget to smile and have fun, because if you don’t, you’re not doing it right!