Category Archives: Recovery

Reality Check

With a little over half-way done I think I can make a pretty accurate comparison between what I thought it would be like to run across America and how it is going so far.

Better than planned:

I believed that camping would be detrimental to recover and that every time I camped it would be more difficult to run the next day than if I stayed indoors, ideally sleeping on a mattress. That prediction was completely wrong! I sleep very well camping, there are fewer distractions, the timing is more adequate, and I usually wake up refreshed and get on the road sooner than when I couchsurf. So camping is great!

Ice baths, massages, pain killers, special diet… I thought I would need all this to keep up. But in reality I am not missing any of it. The massage sessions were decisive during training, but now during the run they would be a luxury. The level of physical stress I am experiencing does not require any special care other than sleeping well for at least 8 hours, ideally 9 or 10. That is all I need to be good as new in the morning.

To keep a 27 mile average I would have to often run more than 30 miles on a day and would complete the run in 100 days. That is proving not just difficult but undesirable. I am having a much better experience, socializing much more, and enjoying my days a lot more at my current 24 mile average. That will mean finishing this in around 112 days plus the days off. So be it, I am liking it much more this way.

I used to think that other than by people interested in running I would be pretty much alone. I didn’t think I would make so many friends that are not into running at all. But to my happiest surprise I have been contacted by people from all walks of life both on the road and in the cities I go through, and I am making many friends among them.

Worse than planned:

I used to think that many people would try to locate me and run along a little or a lot. It has happened a few times but not nearly as often as I imagined.

Attracting attention of the press to this was very easy in Florida, where I thought it was going to be difficult, and has been very difficult since I left Florida, where I thought it was going to be the easiest. That part perplexed me.

I believed running clubs, running stores, would be interested in meeting, having impromptu runs and Q&A sessions. But the few running clubs we contacted made no effort to hide their indifference. I got some sponsorship from a waste management company, a catering company, but after contacting dozens of running stores without success I gave up on that part.

The running clubs are so indifferent to it that if it wasn’t for the enthusiasm of some individuals, runners that brought me in anyway, I wouldn’t have any contact with any running club anywhere, both during training and during the run. I also noticed that I never find doctors or any healthcare organization maintaining or running or promoting any running club: It is always a running store, which ultimately does it because it is good for bu$ine$$. Weird, huh?

Update: The story was different in Phoenix, where the stores and the running clubs were receptive and welcoming!

Taking county roads is an invitation to get lost and end up in farmer’s backyard instead of where Google Maps tells you to go. Rural counties do a poor job of updating Google about which roads are not open to the public.

Just as planned:

  • Middle of Florida was the most difficult part of all.
  • Louisiana was the hardest state to go through.
  • Texas has been the friendliest place.

Lack of recovery

Failure to recover properly can result in chronic dehydration, accumulating muscle damage, systemic inflammation, depressed immune function, and changes in hormone levels.

In the short term insufficient recovery causes muscle soreness, fatigue, and poor performance. If a runner neglects recovery continuously more damaging effects occur like loss of muscle tissue due to excessive muscle fiber breakdown, diminished immunological capacity and, worst of all, permanent damages to joints and other structural damage.

Runner’s knee is considered to be an overuse injury, as are many other types of common running injuries. As the term suggests, overuse injuries involve the gradual breakdown of body tissues resulting from repetitive motion over long periods of time. These injuries are quite different from acute injuries such as ankle sprains.

Beginning runners (like me) suffer the most overuse injuries per hour of training because their bones, muscles, and connective tissues are not yet well adapted to the new lifestyle.

Abrupt changes to training pace or style, like suddenly increasing duration, frequency, or intensity of workouts, can make those problems flare up. The solution for that is to instead ramp up conservatively as the body adapts.

An easy way to measure your recovery status is to take your pulse at rest one day that you are fully recovered and rested, and then again first thing in the morning of every running day. A pulse rate that is much above your reference number suggests that your body is still working on recovering from the most recent workout.

The human body has remarkable capacity to adapt, with proper training, resting, and nourishment. But you must keep an eye on the signs it gives you to know when to push forward and when to let it relax and recover.

How to speed up recovery

Do you know what to do after exercise to speed your recovery from a workout? Your post exercise routine can have a big impact on your fitness gains and sports performance but most people don’t have an after exercise recovery plan.

Most people exercise for the benefits they get from their workout: improved sports performance, better endurance, less body fat, added and even just feeling better. In order to maintain an exercise routine it’s important to recover fully after exercise. Recovery is an essential part of any workout routine. It allows you to train more often and train harder so you get more out of your training.

The biggest challenge or running long distances every day is not the running itself. I would even say that running is the easy part! The challenge is to recover enough in just 14-18 hours between one run and the next so to not cause damage and injury.

Recovery after exercise is essential to muscle and tissue repair and strength building. This is even more critical after an intense running practice. Normally a muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild, and working it again too soon simply leads to tissue breakdown instead of building up.

These are the ways I found most effective, for me, to speed up recovery:

Recovery time

Sounds obvious but isn’t. If you spend 8-10 hours on your feet, running and walking, you must spend the next 14-16 hours of the day doing other things like relaxing laying down, lightly stretching, massaging, and of course sleeping. What I don’t recommend is sitting down. Interestingly if I sit down for more than a few minutes I feel my legs stiffening and my feet hurt more. Anything else is fine, just not sitting down.

Massage

Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and Foam Roller Exercises for easing tight muscles and avoid the heavy sports massage price tag.

When I had some muscle and tendon pain on my left leg, right in the 3rd week of training, I had that taken care of with some deep tissue massage and one additional day of rest. Amazing results for something that would slow down my training for quite a while!

Cool Down

Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes after a workout helps remove lactic acid from your muscles and may reduce muscles stiffness. So I try to just walk and more about a few mintes before getting into a car or stopping for a meal.

Taking a brief cold bath after a run may limit the tissue swelling that follows muscle damage. Most runners also swear by ice baths for the same reason.

Keep your body warm after your run. If your clothes are cold and wet from sweat or precipitation, change into warm clothes as soon as possible.

Stretch

If you only do one thing after a tough workout, consider gentle stretching. This is a simple and fast way to help your muscles recover. I also stretch a bit every 8 miles or so, and during the last ¼ of the run I stretch every 2 miles or so. I feel that it makes it a lot easier overall. Notice that I wrote “gentle” stretching. A lot of people try to push their stretching to a point that they get injured by stretching rather than the exercise!

Stretch the rest of your body, especially your calves, quadriceps and hamstrings, for 10 to 20 minutes at the trailhead while you’re still warm. Stretch the rest of your body, especially your calves, quadriceps and hamstrings, for 10 to 20 minutes at the end of the run while you’re still warm.

Eat Properly

After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. This is even more important if you are performing endurance exercise day after day or trying to build muscle. Ideally, you should try to eat within 60 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate.

There is also some recent evidence suggesting that consuming modest amounts of protein during long runs may lessen muscle damage and improve recovery.

Eating properly has a major impact. When you finish a run you have plenty of damaged muscle fibers in your legs, low glycogen level, and you may be dehydrated. Good nutrition is what will correct those physiological imbalances. You must take protein to repair and build muscles, liquids to rehydrate, and slow processing fibers as well.

Replace Fluids

You lose a lot of fluid during exercise and ideally, you should be replacing it during exercise, but filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating.

I like to drink beer and if you do drink any alcoholic beverage make sure that you drink some water first, and keep the amount of alcohol reasonable. Some cold beers after a long run feel great and have a “pain killer” effect, but make you feel lousy the next morning, so exercise some discretion.

Active Recovery

Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.

Ice Bath

Some athletes swear by ice baths, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers) to recover faster, reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury. The theory behind this method is that by repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Limited research has found some benefits of contrast water therapy at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness.

How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time.

Sleep

Get Lots of Sleep. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. During sleep, your body produces Growth Hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. I used to sleep an average of 6-7 hours per night, and since I began training I have been sleeping 9-11 hours, sometimes more. That is one of the “side effect” of growth hormone release.

Elevate

It helps relax your legs if you can keep them elevated for a while. Usually I do it for 30 minutes or more. A couch, the bed and some pillows, a lounge chair, those and many other places are appropriate to invert your body or at least keep your legs up for a while.

Pain is a language

Pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. Pain may be sharp or dull. It may come and go, or it may be constant. You may feel pain in one area of your body, such as your back, abdomen or chest or you may feel pain all over, such as when your muscles ache from the flu. Pain is part of the body’s defense system, producing a reflexive retraction from the painful stimulus, and tendencies to protect the affected body part while it heals, and avoid that harmful situation in the future. It is an important part of animal life, vital to healthy survival. Without pain, you might seriously hurt yourself without knowing it, or you might not realize you have a medical problem that needs treatment. Once you take care of the problem, pain usually goes away.

There is no such thing as one kind of pain. Pain is not something that either is there or it isn’t. Pain is a language, a full spectrum of physiological information, full of nuances and details. When we resist pain and don’t try to “listen” to it, we miss the many layers and insights being expressed. Pain is one of the voices of your body. Pain defines the current limits and edges of strain and injury. Some painful sensations tell us to stop, while some others are saying that muscles are being worked in ways they weren’t used to, and that is great, so proceed carefully.

The body has many levels of awareness and self-consciousness. Sharp pain usually means the brain is trying to protect some injured part of the body to prevent further damage. Att the same time, dull or gradual pain usually means a part of the body has been exercised and will grow and develop, but in our “pain-free culture” we tend to avoid that good kind of pain as well. It is only when you learn to embrace the pain and appreciate it for what it really means you will grow and improve.

During the last century or so we seem to have confused comfort with happiness, while quite the opposite is true. Running teaches you that there is a difference between being tired after working hard and feeling lousy. Product marketing and advertising all talk about “making it easier” or more convenient. A life driven by consumption is dull, predictable, and boring. Challenging you body to the point of exhaustion makes it more aware and heighten the senses. Everything becomes more alive and more intense.