The RECOVERY season is upon us and it’s time for a much needed break from the fall racing season as we prep for an amazing spring campaign! In this article we will give you our Top Ten recovery Tips to help you maximize your winter recovery/running and have you ready to crush all of your spring goals.
Everyone knows how much we all love running through the winter in upstate New York! The temperatures are brisk, winds are strong, and the snow is flying. How can we make the most out of this time of the year and get ourselves optimally prepared for spring racing? Is it possible to race hard all year round and expect ourselves to be at our best when it really counts in our peak spring season? How can we optimize this time of the year and get ourselves optimally prepared for the upcoming spring racing season? Here in Albany we have the Winter Series and supported long runs throughout the coldest months of the year. It doesn’t get much better than that as they are a great resource for runners here in the capital district to get great supported long runs in with a gang of folks.
At Nark Running we always designate December through mid-January as one of our two annual RECOVERY BLOCKS of the year. The other of which is from mid-May through the end of June and corresponds with the end of the spring racing season. These blocks depend on which peak races we have run and what races our annual plans consists of. These recovery blocks are one of the most important and most commonly neglected time periods in most training plans. There is no better time to begin to apply our Top Ten Recovery Tips than when the holiday season is upon us and the first snows of the season are falling. Our training volume has decreased, races are sparse, and speed work is not a priority in our weekly running schedules. Here we go!
Top 10 RECOVERY TIPS
1. Mental Healing: As runners we are psychologically and unable to maintain our highest levels of mental fitness all year long. In order to be in top shape for our peak races we must have give our central nervous system (CNS) a break. The mental stress of hard training and racing takes a toll and must be honored if we are going to smash our goals in the spring. It’s these down times that allow us to rest and regenerate our minds and give us an opportunity to get sharp again in the new season. After all it takes great focus, motivation, and determination to execute our plan and complete a long enduring season.
2. Less Is More: Although training volume and intensities are significantly reduced at this time it gives our body’s a chance to absorb all of the past season’s exercise stimulus. At this time we adapt to all of the training stress that our body has endured over the course of the past season. Most folks have the hardest time understanding that losing fitness, gaining some weight, and shifting priorities for a short time is a good thing. During this recovery time the “Less Is More” principle is such a great concept to embrace and to allow ourselves to reap the rewards.
3. Musculoskeletal Healing: Our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones need a break from the constant pounding of the roads and trails. The constant repetition of training and racing can eventually break us down if these recovery breaks are not inserted in to the plan. This recovery time where we rest and reduce mileage gives our structure a much needed break and allows it to have a chance to regenerate. While completing our running season and big races we do damage on a cellular level to our skeletal muscle and immune system. Neglecting these breaks can lead us to be more susceptible to illness, over training staleness, and injury.
4. Physiological Adaptations: While running we use use three main energy systems to provide use with energy and power to propel us across the land. Our aerobic, anaerobic, and creatine phosphate systems cannot function at their highest levels constantly throughout the entire year. This is why in most training programs that a periodized approach to training is used to improve fitness levels towards a peak season of races. We train these systems in a strategic order in hope of developing the highest possible levels of fitness and the fastest race times. As our lactate threshold and Vo2 Max climb to new heights and we are able to sustain faster and faster paces over various race distances. In our recovery phase these markers of fitness come back down as volume and intensity of running is diminished. Our energy systems get a chance to stabilize to normal levels, get recharged, and ready for the upcoming season. The mark of a quality training program is one that takes advantage of these down times as a calculated priority of training. After your recovery is complete we begin to rebuild your systems towards the peak levels that will be needed later in the season. You crush your big races at the end of the season, you reset, and start over again with this process.
5. Don’t Race: The winter recovery block is a critical time to limit or even completely eliminate hard racing and high intensity speed work. Every season new runners come to me with misguided ideas of racing in their recovery and early base phases. I highly encourage and recommend that the priority at this time of the year be rest and easy base building. We always take advantage of the early HMRRC Winter Series for supported long runs but wait until February to begin higher intensity workouts or early season races. Performing intense speed workouts or racing too early or too frequently in a training block lowers the body’s blood pH (a measurement of acidity levels) and can sacrifice optimal seasonal gains later. (A. Lydiard) Folks that abuse this fact may collect a pie at the Hangover Half but find themselves flat when the more spring serious races come about.
6. Shift Priorities (temporarily): This is the season to focus on some other things that may or may not be running related. When we are in serious training there are many things in our lives that may get neglected just because of our training. This down time is great time to catch up with family, non-running friends, and just do activities that you may just not get to in the regular season. These fresh new activities will do wonders towards getting us refreshed and sharp for the season ahead.
7. Goal (soul searching): As we know, without goals we can’t be optimally successful in our training and racing. Goals are an essential piece to the puzzle that give us direction, motivation, and guidance in our season. Sometimes it can get difficult to decide on what our next season’s goals are going to be. We lack clarity and the ability to decide on what exactly we want our priorities to be. Sometimes a little time away from running can get us the clarity needed to once again make an assault on our best past performances. This recovery time is a great time to rethink our priorities and get new, exciting, and challenging goals established.
8. Get Strong: Recovery time is the greatest time of the year to begin to get strong again. Our muscle tissue takes a whipping during the regular racing season. Our skeletal muscle fibers (fast and slow twitch) are pushed to the absolute max as we consistently train and race a variety of distances up through the ultra marathon. A solid strength regime designed for runners can address this overall muscle fatigue and weakness that has developed throughout the season. We recommend continuing strength throughout the season but it’s understood that sometimes as running volume peaks and the big races ensue it can be tough. The recovery block is a great time to once again begin to prioritize the gym and address our strength deficiencies. This is the time to focus on bolstering our CP (Creatine Phosphate) Fast Twitch system while fortifying a foundation of complimentary strength to assist our aerobic system demands.
9. Plateau Busting: Plateaus in running performance will happen and sometimes they can totally halt your desired progress. Our mind and body can get tired, overworked, and just plain stale. The training and racing that we did before seem harder than ever while the results are not up to our usual standards. The recovery block is a great time to address this issue and get the refresher that we need. For longevity and consistency purposes in training these proactive breaks will keep us sharp while being able to once again regain former peak fitness levels. Take a couple strategic annual breaks each year and train more consistently than ever in 2018.
10. Injury prevention: In order to be a successful runner we will need to stay injury free and consistent in our training. The December/January recovery time is a great time to get any minor injuries or nagging discomforts under control. In many cases a small break from training can be the remedy needed to get rid of any nagging muscle or joint soreness. These recovery breaks will be essential in keeping an environment in place that promotes a trend of continuous improvements over the long haul.