Recovery: The invisible Partner in Running Success

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a high school runner training for the upcoming track season, or you just won the Austin Marathon with an Olympic qualifying time like our hometown hero Allison Macsas (2:43:11), the same rules apply: you need recovery just as much as you need hard workouts.

It’s a balance, and when it’s in balance, you’ll execute your best races. Runners recovering from the marathon require a whole different perspective on allowing the body to rebuild. There’s no question, running a marathon is at the extreme end of the running spectrum, and the damage it does reflects that. Studies show that after completing a marathon, runners show significant damage and inflammation to  muscle fiber, and experience impaired muscle power—particularly in the calf muscles. The damage goes right down to a cellular level, as indicated by elevated blood levels of creatinine kinase and increased myoglobin.

Sleep, rest days, and fuel are the three big pillars of recovery.

Additionally, running an event such as the marathon puts runners at increased risk of getting the flu or a cold, as the immune system is compromised for a brief period.

But enough of the scary scientific evidence. The human body is quite remarkable, and guess what happens in the days following a marathon? Given enough rest and recovery, your body quickly repairs the damage, and you are back good as new.

Of course, the rules of recovery apply to all training and racing, not just the marathon. A hard workout where you bust through your best times is only as effective as the recovery that follows it. In other words, if you train hard all the time without allowing your body to adapt to the training, you won’t see the same fitness gains as you would if you build in recovery., It’s the invisible part of training,

So what does recovery mean, and how to you incorporate it to optimize your running?

Sleep. Getting enough sleep is key to adequate recovery and affects everything form heart rate to heat tolerance. You should be getting at least seven hours of sleep a day—more if you train for the longer distances.

Rest days. Most runners get out there and workout five to six days a week. Arrange those runs to allow for the best recovery, especially regarding speed work. Running expert and coach Jeff Galloway advises his runners to take at least two days of rest after a speed workout: one day off, and one easy running day. “Each of us responds differently to hard work or long runs,” says Galloway. “Even if you don’t feel tired, it’s best to take one or two easy days after a hard one.”

Fuel. The food and beverages you take in following a workout can aid in recovery, helping to allow you to perform at a high level again the next day. Experts agree that optimal refueling begins within the hour after a workout. That’s not to say you must eat and drink at that point, it’s just that your body maximizes refueling best during that window. While carbohydrates alone used to be the go-to recovery fuel, it’s now recognized that a three-to-one ratio of carbs and protein is ideal. That’s why chocolate milk has gotten a big thumbs up—it fits that model nicely. The carbs help replenish energy stores in your muscles, while the protein will aid in repairing damaged muscle tissue.

These are the three big pillars of recovery and removing any one of them will weaken the overall structure. So for your best running and racing, don’t forget recovering!

Upcoming races: Saturday, March 3 at 8:00 a.m., the Plum Creek Challenge (Long track; Short track; Mini track)  5K at Negley Elementary 5940 McNaughton St. in  Kyle. Sunday, March 4 at 8:30 a.m., Race to Build 10K/5K Trail Race at WILCO Regional Park in Leander.

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