Paying attention to recovery is vital to any successful regimen in life. Training for a marathon is no exception. Currently I’m working to achieve a personal best with my 5th marathon in Stockholm, Sweden. In order to make sure I’m in prime form, I have to balance my training properly to adapt to the stress of my current program. I’m still learning as I go, but I thought I would share with you some thoughts and techniques. These have helped me remain injury free since taking up running 3 1/2 years ago.
1.) What purpose does each run serve?
In training each run serves a purpose for what I’m trying to accomplish. Simply put, I’m either working on endurance, speed or recovery during the week. Although I have a specific plan and long term plan, I do have many different types of sessions I can pull from to keep my body in good form. The pace in which I run at depends on the workout. Although I have goal paces to hit in my workouts, I still think about proper effort over proper pace. Also, with each workout I try to think of one aspect that I can improve upon, such as proper breathing or form.
2.) Think quality, not quantity.
In the West, we tend to have an obsession with quantity and not quality. Many runners have an ill-conceived notion that running 100 miles per week will make them a better runner. The truth is, it takes time to develop that amount of mileage consistently. From what I’ve seen, either runners burn out from boredom, or end up injured. I’ve seen more success with the correct plan that allows your body to adapt properly to the stress of each workout. In order to adapt to the stress, the workouts and recovery must be of quality.
3.) Mastering the recovery run.
When visiting Kenya in 2016 I saw many athletes run fast. I also saw many of the same athletes jog. The recovery run, or jog for that matter, is key to improving performance. The mindset of having a recovery pace defeats the whole purpose of running easy. I also think the same for having a set amount of miles to run. Instead, I like to think in minutes (I also like to think this way for long runs). You should feel refreshed, not taxed, after completing an easy run. It takes courage to run slow.
4.) Massage, epsom salt, ice bath.
Even if you don’t have access to real sports massages (massage that hurts, but after awhile you get used to it), taking an ice bath after a difficult session can help quite a bit with recovery. I sometimes like to use epsom salt, especially in the winter months after a hard session. I try to make my body feel comfortable before running. This means I do what I can to avoid blisters and chafing. Tip: use vaseline before running. It works well and is cheaper than other products on the market.
5.) Gym work to fix muscle imbalances.
I have a confession: sometimes I take a day off from running. Somedays I completely rest, however most days I choose to work on muscle imbalances in the gym. I work on core at least once a week, but will often try to fit in 3 sessions per week of strengthening and drills so I can handle my workouts better. After running consistently, the body becomes efficient. An easy 50:00 run might not accomplish much at a certain point, but a 50:00 gym session will help change up the routine to make you stronger.
6.) Proper nutrition.
How you eat before and after will greatly affect the quality of a session. I try to eat a few hours before a session or run first thing in the morning after a big dinner. I stick to simple and clean carbohydrates and avoid fruit and other foods high in fat content since those take longer to digest in my system. After a quality workout, I intake carbs within a 30:00 window. I also make sure to ingest protein to help my recovery. The biggest sin I see runners make is not eating enough. If you train hard, you can afford the calories.
Timing is important in spacing out workouts. How much time are you allowing to recover in-between sessions? Are you getting enough sleep at night? How long do you let your food digest before running hard for over 2 hours? Is your training program the right length for your next big race? Setting a personal best isn’t necessarily about having the mindset of working extremely hard; rather it is about timing your efforts to reach your peak performance on race day.