If you’ve been running for long enough, you know the type of person I’m talking about. He shows up to your running group, new guy with a lot of promise. He starts auspiciously – maybe a PR, maybe even a string of them. He nails every workout and MAN does he nail them! After a month or two, you’re wondering just how far this guy can progress. There just doesn’t seem to be any stopping this dynamo. But when you see him under the light of day, you notice the fatigue around the corners of his eyes, the dim look in his eyes. Your friends gossip about how so-and-so went on what was supposed to be an easy ten miler with Joe and ended up the victim of a death thrash that left him in the hurt locker for a week. Then, some minor hiccups. A pull here, a niggling ache there, all just minor complaints. He’s managing. Then, he goes strangely missing for like, a week. Where’s Joe, you and your running mates wonder. He shows back up, but just can’t seem to keep things together, never PRs again. He just sort of fades away into the cobwebs of memory, a cautionary tale that nobody can seem to remember.
Okay, maybe a little glammed up, a tad dramatic, but most of you know what I’m talking about here. Recovery, duh. Or rather, the lack of it, and how sustained lack of recovery will inevitably lead to breakdown.
First, you should know that my approach to recovery is not conservative in the least. When I was going through driver instructor training a few years back, I had a few instructors who thought I was behaving recklessly when I ended up off-track or plowing through some barriers. My response: “How am I supposed to know just where my limits are if I don’t go beyond them?” I apply the same mindset to running and recovery. I’ve pushed things way past what my body was capable of absorbing in a cumulative fashion. I’ve been injured multiple times, and played victim to more than one bug that took one look at my weak immune system and thought it would be a great place to camp out. Each time it’s happened I try to take away the important lessons – the early symptoms, the mindset that made me ignore them, and how to recognize and correct early next time.
Something else about recovery I alluded to yesterday – recovery is what happens when we’re not running. So while a “recovery run” sounds so nice and inviting, understand it for what it is – a means of stimulating recovery through a reduced level of intensity, but not something during which recovery on a cellular level actually occurs.
Lastly, since I’m starting to cut into my most important recovery aid (sleep), I will briefly cover perhaps the most esoteric aspect of recovery – how life affects it. for the longest time, I tended to approach running, and sport in general, as an isolated activity. A mathematical problem really: Add X, Multiply by Y, and you should arrive at Z. Over time, I’ve come to understand the necessity of accounting for just how much wear and tear our lives put on us. In fact, it would be very depressing to try to go through each and every stressor we face in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, you can not isolate an activity from the life to which it is connected. And if that life is full of stress it will inevitably have an impact on that activity.
As a result of this knowledge, I’ve had to become okay with dialing back training when things in the rest of my life aren’t going well, or stress is simply through the roof. I’ve also had to learn to accept that sometimes bad workouts happen after bad days. At the risk of sounding psycho-babbly, I have to really force myself to accept these things, and it sure isn’t easy.
Wrapping things up: Recovery – it’s important. It’s what will keep you progressing, keep you uninjured and healthy. But don’t be afraid to test your mettle a bit when the timing is right. Just make sure you have an ice bath drawn and some compression sleeves ready to go…
Tomorrow, I promise to get the post up earlier. We’ll be talking Mindset. Should be cool.