Recovery is often associated with one of two things: eating chocolate chip cookie dough while binge-watching Netflix, or missing out on a refreshing run or fun rock climbing session with friends. In reality, recovery isn't so black and white, and it’s not quite as simple. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a back of the packer, recovery is a necessary component of remaining strong, healthy, and injury-free. Here’s how to do it right.
Nickademus Hollon, an ultrarunner and endurance athlete from San Diego, California, coaches athletes around the globe through his company, Lucky 13 Endurance Coaching. Two of Hollon’s athletes recently surpassed their goals at World’s Toughest Mudder, completing 75 miles of the gruelling course in a 24-hour period. While complete rest was an obvious component of post-race recovery, Hollon also ensured that his athletes followed a proper recovery protocol, which involves more than you might think. “Rest and recovery importance is three-fold,” says Hollon. “Muscle rest, adrenal recovery, and psychological recovery.”
Muscle Soreness and Damage Recovery (1-2 weeks)
Muscle soreness can happen during the race to days after your event when your legs feel like lead and your body refuses to get up in the morning. “Rest is necessary for your muscles and any acute damage you may have done during the race,” says Hollon. “This is one of the main things to focus on, and there are a myriad ways of helping speed the recovery process.” Hollon lists practices therapies like acupuncture and massage to practices like yoga and tai chi. Muscle soreness and acute pain can last 1-2 weeks, so it’s important to tread lightly if you start moving back into training. Try walking or easy biking to help reduce inflammation and speed the healing process.
Adrenal Recovery (1 week-1 month)
“A lot of people skip this or have a poor understanding of it,” says Hollon. In simplified terms, the damage is done to the endocrine system during a long event due to the high amounts of stress the body goes through. “In an eight-hour event, you’ve produced a tonne of cortisol. Your body now needs to recover, but this recovery can take anywhere from one week to one month. In some cases, it can extend to two months.” Hollon monitors his athletes’ adrenal recovery through resting heart rate. By taking measurements before and after events, Hollon can see where clients are more or less recovered, despite signals like muscle fatigue and soreness. “I can then begin training clients based on the feedback from their resting heart rates, knowing when to include speed work or when I need to keep it easy.”
Psychological Recovery (1+ months)
While mental training is often touted as a solid way of improving your race performance, little thought is left for mental recovery. This is a vital component of recovery and can make or break your push to the finish. Says Hollon, “Regardless of the outcome of the event, you need to give yourself time to mentally recover. There’s now a void of time in your day that used to go to training–it’s important to fill this time with family, friends, or maybe a neglected hobby so your mind can recover.” Taking the time to plan future trips or calling loved ones can take your mind off of the disappointment of a less-than-stellar performance or relieve the pressure (and future expectation) from a win.
While all individuals recover at different rates, Hollon recommends a general baseline for beginner to elite athletes: “At least one rest day a week is important for even the top athletes,” says Hollon, “while two to three days of rest per week can be helpful for beginners.” On a larger scale, Hollon likes to schedule three weeks of hard work and one week of easy training per month.
Stay tuned for how to plan your annual race calendar–and how to incorporate all three of the components of rest into your annual race schedule.