With the growing popularity of more hardcore running events that let you stack up serious miles like Reach the Beach or Bay to Breakers, this article is meant to address the need for almost instant run recovery. Success in endurance running events has less to do with your fitness than it does with your ability to handle the associated physical and mental fatigue. Being able to bounce back, in other words, is a critical success factor.
Most runners assume that recovery is what you do after you finish running, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Most of you run enough during the week that your body is almost always within 24 hours of a workout (if not less). In this sense, we are always recovering from one session and preparing for another.
True recovery is about managing the progressive overload of your training program. Recovery is essentially how you decompress from that run, what you eat to fuel your muscles, how you care for the stress you put on those muscles and then, how you prepare for the next session. No one single run, save for perhaps your longest run in marathon training, should put you in such a deep hole as to need a special recovery process, and even long runs like that can be handled differently if need be.
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While we have a lot of practice with recovery thanks to our daily training, handling an event is another story entirely: you are in a different place, you have different goals, you are running on new roads, there are distractions galore...the list goes on. Hopefully the list below will help you make the most of your next big event.
Phase 1: Pre-Event
Your ability to handle the rigors of a multi-stage race is largely determined by how rested you are coming into the event. Being the fittest version of yourself does no good if you are too tired to really participate. Without a doubt you'll hit a wall during your event -- that's part of why you chose the event! -- but many runners make these events harder than required by nuking themselves long before the starting gun.
Be Specific: Do your best to mimic the conditions of race day within your training plan. A large part of our Goofy Challenge training plan has been weekly "double" sessions run on Saturday and Sunday. This served a dual purpose: allowing us to build up the mileage safely and, even more importantly, giving us many opportunities to test our pacing, nutrition and recovery. While you don't need to head to the mountains and run at one in the morning every weekend between now and your next epic event, you can stack run or even schedule a race rehearsal to eliminate most of the guesswork on race day.
The Taper: From a fitness perspective, you need to begin reducing your training load starting around 21 days (Or closer to 14 days for the more advanced runners). This means that your longest overall training session is done and the total volume of running will decrease accordingly. While everyone has their own best personal taper strategy, a standard three-week taper would look like this:
* Week 3: 75% of peak volume.
* Week 2: 50% of peak volume.
* Race Week: 30% of peak volume.
So if your longest running week was 60 miles then Week 3 would be 45 miles, Week 2 would be 30, Race Week would be about 20 miles. Week 3 is still a solid training week with a good hard long run effort, it's just shorter. Week 2 and Race Week are where your body absorbs the training and prepares to actually race.
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Stay Sharp: One of the most critical elements of the taper is called "sharpening." The goal here is to avoid being sluggish or stuck in full-on recovery mode when the race starts. This can be accomplished by adding some speed work into the final two weeks of your taper. We aren't talking mile repeats here, as the time for building fitness is long gone. Instead, we are looking for sessions where we can keep the fast-twitch muscles working and hone our running form. Two key session in this regard are:
- Strides: These are short 20-second windows where you run at top speed (but not all out), aiming for about 30 left foot strikes. The focus here is on maximum speed through minimal work -- avoid the clenched-fist hammer sprinting mentality. You can add six to eight repeats of these to three or four runs a week during your taper.
- Fivers: This is a short speed session of five intervals run at 5k pace, the sum total of which equals one-third of your overall 5k time. So if you run a 24 minute 5k, then your workout would be: five repeats at 7:43 pace per mile for a total of 8 minutes, aka 5 x 1:40 @ 7:43 pace. Recovery from each interval should be twice as long as you run, in this case 3 minutes and 20 seconds. This can be done up to twice a week during the taper window, there is no need to do Strides at the end of this session.
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