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When it comes to sports and fitness, I truly believe that we are all an experiment of one.
Of course when it comes to human anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, there are indeed constants with scientific backed, peer reviewed evidence. Training standards and practices that we know work for the vast majority of people.
But as always, there are outliers. Anomalies. Exceptions to the rules.
With my running clients, we absolutely adhere to the basics. Specificity. Progression. Rest days. Varied workouts and cross training. But there are always those that are the exception to the rules. Athletes that can handle a higher rate of overload, who can seemingly skip rest days and never get hurt (the non rest day crowd drives me crazy. Just ask my friends.) And of course, those who can’t handle typically prescribed jumps in a training plan, and need a more gentle approach.
The variation between athletes bodies and their abilities to adapt and recover are often unpredictable, and one of the reasons that I encourage…no…hound my runners to truly listen to their bodies.
Which brings me to my ultra marathon recovery approach. I have no idea what to expect, nor what approach to take…because I’ve never run this far in my life. Not even close.
Typically I recover very well from trail races and shorter distance ultras. The softer surface of trails is much more forgiving to my body than the pavement, and the varied movement that comes naturally with trail running leaves me feeling less beat up than I do after the monotony of road running. Not to mention in the much longer distance races, there is often quite a bit of walking towards the end of the race. Can you begin active recovery while still mid race?
So here I am, one week after the longest distance I’ve ever run (84.24 miles…those .24 most definitely deserve mentioning) and the ultra marathon recovery experiment is on. My body feels 98% fine. Nothing hurts. Nothing is sore. The anxious runner side of me desperately wants to hop right back into training for the 100 this spring. The educated coach side of me knows that there is absolutely no way I ran that far without sustaining some sort of damage. Rest and recovery is crucial if I want to go into the 100 feeling as strong…or stronger…than I did this past weekend.
For the sake of learning more about this “experiment of one”, here’s what I’ve been feeling, for documentation purposes:
Sleep. I spent the 1.5 hour drive home from the race in a half-sleep stupor. Thankfully, I was not the one driving. As soon as we got home, Geoff threw a bunch of pillows and blankets down on the ground in the living room. I’m fairly certain I took a shower first (I don’t remember) and then passed out. At some point in the afternoon, he woke me up and made me eat. Somehow, in my half awake state I remembered that we had a gift card to the Olive Garden, and decided that’s what I wanted to eat.
Thankfully, the OG is about a 5 minute drive away. I remember wondering if the waiter thought I was drunk, because that’s how I felt the entire time. The world was a giant blur. Alas, one serving of salad, breadsticks, and garlic alfredo cavatappi later, I was back at home, and fast asleep on the floor.
I slept 12.5 hours that night (I’m typically a 7 hour girl) and have done little more than sleep ever since. I am tired, and I’m having a hard time feeling like I’m ever rested enough.
Nutrition. Surprisingly, I never got the post race ravenous “runchies” that I normally do. Not the day after, not the week after. I attribute this to having proper nutrition and hydration throughout the race (thanks again Emily!). I’ve been trying to eat hearty, well balanced meals to help with recovery, as well as taking my vitamins and supplements when I remember (which is about a once every three days kind of deal.) My go-to supplements are Zyflamend Whole Body (turmeric), New Chapter Perefct Prenatal (for the iron, don’t get any crazy ideas) and Now Sports Reocvery Factors. In case you were wondering.
Mentally…I was destroyed. Which totally surprised me. The “I just did something pretty kickass” feelings faded within hours, and I found myself incredibly emotional. Far more than I ever expected to be. But not in the “post race blues” fashion that you often hear about. Instead, the tiniest thing would set me off. If the cashier at the grocery store looked at me funny, I probably would have cried. Hell, the day after the race I started crying in the shower for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Fortunately, for myself and those around me, this feeling passed within 5 or 6 days.
Running? As mentioned above, I feel physically fine. Nothing hurts. Nothing aches. No soreness whatsoever…
…until I start running.
I held out for quite a few days before I attempted a 5 miler with my training team. Of course I made the mistake of opting to run with a team member who has two speeds: stop and go. There was no easing into the workout, it was a “hit your Garmin and immediately hit your tempo pace” sort of run. That lasted all of 1 mile for me before I cried uncle, and sent her on her way with the rest of the team. My legs felt incredibly fatigued, and my feet screamed at me “nooooo ma’am, we aren’t doing this again anytime soon!”I myself headed back to the start in a run/walk/shuffle manner.
Fast forward to Saturday. My marathon group had a 20 miler scheduled, my half marathon group a 5 miler, and my 5K group about 38 minutes of run/walking. I figured I’d attempt to run SOMETHING with all of them. Long story short, I realized one mile in that my heart rate was pushing 158 at a 10:45 pace. Granted this is all relative, but for me, a 10:45 pace would normally warrant a heart rate of about 115-120.
My body is pissed.
So I rest. I bide my time. I reach out to experienced ultra runners who assure me that this is completely normal, and that no, I did not blow my training plan for the 100 in May by running 84 miles in a “training” race.
Waiting is truly the hardest part. But I keep reminding myself that this will be worth it…