The Art of Rest and Recovery
By: Matt Young
Man-o-man, I was tired. I had a relatively big training week just the week before and I didn’t sleep much the past two nights and it was catching up to me. I have a rule and it’s called the 10 minute rule, maybe you do too. The rule goes like this - even if I get up in the morning and I don’t feel like running, I have to go out for 10 minutes and then if after the 10 minutes I still don’t feel like running then I can bag it and go home. But do you know what happens most of the time? I feel like running more.
But not this day. I was headed for the trails and I felt beat down for the 1 mile run that gets me to the trails. So, I decided to walk to the top of the first hill. And when I got to the top of the hill I turned around and went home. I still got in 3 miles but it wasn’t what I had planned. In the grand scheme I really felt like I was doing more harm than good and sometimes a runner just needs to rest. This doesn’t happen very often to me, maybe once or twice a year, but it does happen.
As runners we talk a lot about training plans and workouts but did you know that rest is perhaps the most underestimated part of your running and is vital to any training program? You’ve probably noticed that there’s no lack of inspirational quotes and quips to get you motivated but it’s very hard to find famous quotes on rest and recovery. That’s because it’s the part of training that seems boring until you learn to appreciate it. I love my rest days and always look forward to them. After a hard week of training it’s a good break for the body and mind.
The truth about training is that your muscles grow by giving them stress and breaking them down, then allowing them to rest and rebuild after the stress. If you run hard every day, you will continually break your muscles down, and improvement will be slow and difficult, which could lead to burnout or injury.
It’s best to rest the day after a tough run, to allow your body to recover. Does this mean you should rest completely, with no running or exercise at all? Not necessarily. The important thing is that you don’t run hard two days in a row. But you can do a very easy workout like an easy run or walking (or other type of easy exercise) in between harder runs and still allow your muscles to recover.
But the whole recovery process is very important especially as you build towards goal races. So I thought I’d cover a short post workout routine that could aid in your rest and recovery.
What to do after a hard workout:
Rub it or roll it
Use your foam roller or do some self massage and find the knots and sore spots. Roll or rub them all out!
Be sure to drink 16-20 ounces of water after a workout and that is probably enough for most people right after you’re done running depending on how much you sweat. Then keep up your hydration throughout the day. Although it’s been a long held belief that runners need to drink A LOT of water a better guideline is to drink to thirst. And if you want to know if you’re drinking enough (sorry, but this is about to get graphic) just check your urine. If it’s clearish to pale yellow you’re probably fine. If it looks like Mountain Dew then drink up
More important than drinking water is eating. When you run, you burn mostly glycogen, a fuel stored in your muscles. To maximize your recovery, you should eat immediately after your run even if you don't feel hungry. It’s believed that there’s a 30- 60 minute window after you work out when your body can soak up your food to turn it in to glycogen to reload your muscles. Wait more than an hour to refuel, and your body's ability to make glycogen out of what you consume drops significantly. I like to get something in me within the first 15 minutes after a workout even if it’s an initial 100-150 calories made up of protein and carbohydrates. A cup of yogurt or glass of milk is about perfect for this. (See why Chocolate Milk is the best Recovery Drink) Then I’ll follow it up with a meal with proteins and good carbs like an omelet loaded with veggies, a home made smoothie, or yogurt with berries and walnuts.
Get off of your feet
After you’ve stretched and eaten try to get off of your feet for 30 minutes and even prop them up if you can.
Lastly, if you want to get extreme in your recovery try an ice bath. You may not need this but if you’re curious and want to try it out to test the benefits for yourself .
To get started just fill your tub with enough cold water to cover your legs. After you get used to that try adding some ice. The point is to lower the temperature in your legs so really cold water will do the trick. After you get out of the tub and take a shower your body rushes in warm blood to brings warmth back to the cold areas and the blood brings with it healing and recovery.
I often do an ice bath after a long run. There’s been some recent research that suggests it may deter the glycogen uptake that I just talked about. My general approach is try it and if it works for you, keep doing it.
Here’s a veteran ice bath tip: I bundle up with a hoodie and toboggan to keep my upper body warm and take a cup of coffee to the bath with me. At least half of my body is nice and warm and it makes the rest of it bearable. If I’m running trails and there’s a creek nearby I just sit in the creek for a while and drink a smoothie. The cold creek is welcomed relief after a long run.
So remember, without rest and recovery our training is in vain. After a foam roll, drink adequately, eat to refuel, and get off your feet.