My Love Hate Relationship with Recovery

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“We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal.” Thich Nhat Hanh
I suppose he has a point…but do you truly believe it and practice it?
When I started running a couple years back, I was racing hard in the half and full marathon with an ultra squeezed in here and there; basically pushing it every weekend for a solid 8 week period.  Was I resting? Relaxing? Anything? Nope. Why would I do that?! Recovery is for the birds. But then it catches up to you…injuries for short or long periods of times…horrendous training days…low heart rates…slow paces…its a nightmare and yet most athletes continue to push. We assume that because ‘that other runner who did better’ is now running again, that it must be okay for us to kick it into high gear again. And most of us are obviously invincible so why even consider a proper recovery.
I absolutely without a doubt hate and love recovery SO MUCH. The battle in my head is exhausting. When I’m not doing something that produces a good sweat, I’m basically a caged animal. Recovery has been the hardest adjustment for me since starting 1 year ago on reaching my running career goals with Rivs. But I have to do it. It’s like air or water…recovery is nonnegotiable.  I had to learn to slow down…to stop moving…to turn my brain off…to live in the present. And all of these necessities involved in recovery have made a huge difference. Even if my body doesn’t “feel” like I need recovery, it still does. We don’t really “feel” what our muscles are going through after any size run. So in the short term, a solid 4:1 ratio of carb to protein is crucial. Then continuing that every hour for the next 4 hours is vital for proper recovery (pending the run size). In the long term, down periods become even more important for the body and mind. A clear indicator of needing a rest period is when you dread going for a run of any size or speed. Maybe its time to give your body and mind a break. The other part to remember…the first run back is never easy – shaking out all those cobwebs in the legs can be super uncomfortable. Channel that frustration to gratitude that you are able to run; take deep breaths; and smile when you run. Totally different energy will come over you and it wont seem so bad.
The art of resting is not as easy for some people, especially if you do it right. I don’t mean kicking up your legs, going out for lots of drinks, and eating crap as many people do.  Believe it or not, as a dietitian I love eating junk food here and there, but it doesn’t have a place in recovery. Are you sleeping? That is huge in recovery but many of us take advantage of the extra time not running and go work more or run way too many errands – nooooo! And if your not binge watching Netflix, are you rolling?…stretching?…any activity at all? And living in the present moment is key…try to stop your wheels about the next race. It creates stress in your body and keeps your cortisol levels up – keep it calm as much as you can. So as hard as these necessities are for athletes to do, they are exactly why we should love recovery! After all the hard work put into training and racing, give yourself a break – you deserve it.
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So how do you turn hating recovery into loving it? Well, I know for me, I will always have an underlying hate towards sore, tight muscles that don’t want to move as fast right away, but that time between the race and next training period – fall in love with it. Embrace it. Ill assume we all are taking at least a week or two off…if not upwards of a month. That’s truly the right way to recover in terms of time off. In whatever time frame you or your coach establishes, eat and hydrate. Don’t skimp on calories because you are afraid of weight gain – the miles will come! High quality protein and carbs are essential – at least 80% of the time. Sure, 20% have fun. Get in omega 3’s, turmeric, and other anti-inflammatories….you are super swollen at the cellular level after racing…don’t neglect the interworking of the muscles. Drink at least 2-3 liters of water per day…limit caffeine. I know, I know. SLEEP. Any time you can – rest the legs, rest the mind. This is your bodies time to repair.  If you need to move – do it in the pool. Stretch. Roll. For me, I have a series of PT exercises I work through in recovery week that simply stretch out my IT bands, hips, and hamstrings which are most affected when I race. And finally, stay present. Enjoy and embrace the recovery period…you might meditate, go to yoga, or practice breathing techniques. Do what works for you, but keep your mind present.
And all of a sudden, as you respect your body a little more by properly recovering, it allows you, in the next training period, to push your limits even more and reach the next set of goals. I promise you, it will pay off. When you are good to your body, your body is good to you.
I will say my recovery from NF50 is still in effect. I have started activity once again after a solid period of time off and mentally – oh my goodness – was it needed! I loved having the time off!! I feel refreshed and ready to start my next training block, at least ease into it.  My legs are still shaking out, but now I get that’s to be expected. I hope in time, or perhaps you already have, fall in love with recovery. Cheers!
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