Posts Tagged by recovery

Holiday Cross Training

Somehow, between my self-proclaimed month of rest and coming down with some sort of sickness after visiting my family for Thanksgiving, 9 full days passed without me running one single step.

Christmas Wreaths

The crazy thing about this – I hardly even noticed.

It’s funny how when you’re injured, or tapering, or resting for any other reason than “I just don’t feel like running” those days until you can run again seem to drag by. I feel every single non-running day pass, counting them down in hopes that I would be that much closer to lacing up my shoes again and hitting the pavement.

But when I just don’t want to run, the non-running days add up without me even noticing. For those 9 days, I didn’t even miss running. Not in the slightest.

Plus, not running gave me plenty of time to focus on other cross training activities.

On Saturday, I got in some good “strength training” in the form of chopping down and carrying our first official Christmas tree.

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In past years, Evan and I have gone out to get a little tree for my apartment. Even though both of us spent the holiday with our families, it was nice to have a little bit of festivity for those weeks leading up to it. This year we will be heading to PA to celebrate Christmas, but it’s our first year in a house. Our first official tree together. So the choosing of that tree is something we obviously took very seriously.

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I just need to pause and say that we tried this Christmas tree farm on a whim (having never had a Christmas here in VT and not really knowing the best spots in the area) and I was blown away from the second we got out of the car. Big red barn, petting zoo, a warm fire, free hot cocoa, Santa for the kids, and wagon rides out into the seemingly endless fields surrounded by mountains.

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And to top it all off – it was snowing. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

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After some precise measuring to make sure that the large tree we selected would actually fit in our living room, we got to work chopping it down.

christmas tree measuring

Hours later, the tree was set up, and our house started looking just a little more festive. Have I mentioned that I love this time of year so much??

christmas tree…only slightly lopsided…

Then on Sunday, I got a great full body workout on the slopes.

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I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t more than a little nervous about how we would survive our first Vermont winter. I’ve lived in New England for most of my adult life, but have spent most of my time in areas close enough to the ocean that we never got truly pelted by snow. This will be my first in a noncoastal New England state. So Evan and I decided that if we were going to be here for endless months of cold and snow, we might as well make the most of it.

Despite the fact that neither of us has skied in at least 4 – 5 years, we bought each other season passes (Stratton has an amazing deal for people under 30 if anyone is interested). Sunday was the first time in our entire relationship that Evan and I skied together. It was warm, the little snow that was on the mountain was slushy, and by mid-afternoon it had started raining.

But we had a blast. Somewhere along the line, I had kind of forgotten how fun skiing was. By the end of the day, my whole body hurt. I could barely walk. And I had decided that I was officially trading in my running shoes this winter for a pair of skis. Forget running through the snow and cold. I would be spending the rest of the winter perfecting my new sport.

This proclamation lasted precisely 24 hours. Because yesterday, a package showed up. And all thoughts about quitting running for the rest of the winter went out the window as soon as I saw what was inside:

Saucony Kinvara TR and Mirage 3

The Saucony Kinvara TR (a pair of trail shoes I’ve been coveting for awhile now) AND the brand new, not yet released Mirage 3. I have professed my love for the Mirage 2 many times on this blog and I’m pretty sure this next version is going to win my heart just as quickly….even if they aren’t green. They look very different from their predecessor, and I’m excited to see how these changes feel on the run.

Speaking of which…I need to get running. My days on the couch have officially ended.

Full review to come!

Staying Off-Track {Embracing Rest}

This isn’t a post about getting back on track after a weekend of holiday indulgence.

It’s not about cleaning up my diet, giving up the sweets, eating more vegetables, and abstaining from alcohol until 2013.

It’s not about ramping up my mileage, getting slim and trim, or how to lose weight during the holiday season.

This post is, in fact, about the exact opposite. (I’m pretty sure we’ve all read enough of those other posts to last us the rest of the year, anyway…)

Rest. Relaxation. Not training.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I really (reallyreally) love the breaks between training seasons. Rest isn’t just an important part of physical recovery, it’s also essential mentally. Even though I didn’t run the most competitive training cycle ever, my mind has still been craving the “off” season. When there’s no pressure to hit mileage goals. No pressure to run fast. …no pressure to run at all, really.

I usually take a one-week-no-activity break after marathons. This has been a non-negotiable part of my training regimen since high school (just replace “marathon” with “cross country/track season.”) But since I raced Ragnar Vegas right after MCM, this year was a little different. Strangely enough, I felt better after the relay than I did after the marathon, so I didn’t take a full week off then either. I was too fired up and excited about running to take more than a couple days of complete rest.

Luckily, logic soon caught up to me and I realized I wasn’t doing myself any favors by continuing to hit the pavement. Although I think my body is pretty much recovered from my back-to-back race weekends, mentally I’m not quite there yet. I need time to breathe. Time to think about things other than running. Time to take a step back and come up with my game plan for 2013.

marathon readingOff-season reading

I have big goals for next year – the elusive marathon PR being one of them (which I’m officially naming Operation #goodbye318). In a few weeks, I’m going to start working very hard toward that goal. But before I can do that, I need to make sure my body and my mind are ready. I need time to get excited about training again. To crave mileage and speed work and hill workouts and all that other painful stuff that you need to do in order to get faster.

Eventually I’ll get to the point where not running stops feeling great and starts making me feel like the biggest sloth in the entire world. The point where if I don’t run right this second I’ll certainly go crazy. But I’m not there yet. The couch is still calling to me. And long walks with the dog and my husband sound way more appealing than long runs alone.

So for the next two weeks, my “no-plan” plan is to run when I feel like it, slowly start lifting again (because every single muscle besides my quads is seriously out of shape), and work in more cross training.

But mostly, my plan is to rest. To eat what I want. Spend time decorating for Christmas and watching holiday movies instead of working out. To see family as much as possible and to really enjoy this time of year.

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Right now I have one more race on the schedule for 2012, but it’s a fun one…not a PR effort. Evan and I are signed up for the It’s a Wonderful Run 5K in Seneca Falls, NY on December 8th. It’s a Wonderful Life is my all-time favorite Christmas movie, and this run is set up to be a celebration of that movie – including a start on the Bridge Street Bridge, which is supposedly the inspiration for the bridge scenes in the movie. Plus, Janie and Zuzu are going to be there! I seriously can’t wait.

Other than that, I’ll be over here truly embracing rest. The only PRs I expect to set from now until the end of the year are in cookie-eating. It’s going to be a good month.

 

When 7 Miles Feel Like 20

As so often happens after big race weekends, I came back from Hood to Coast with high hopes. The relay gave my running confidence a huge boost, and spending a weekend surrounded by runners usually leads to one thing — the desire to run more.

HTC_vanessa_lauren_caroline.jpg{Picture via Caroline}

Unfortunately my big plans about upping the mileage and diving head first back into training didn’t exactly play out. Because Hood to Coast knocked me out in the worst way, and it seems to be taking me weeks to recover.

I guess that’s what happens when you fly to another coast and run a race on zero sleep that you really aren’t in ideal shape for, faster than you have any business running. But that hasn’t exactly lessened my frustration over the fact that my body doesn’t seem to be bouncing back as quickly as I would like.

I tried to be patient at first. The day after I got home from HTC, I came down with a severe respiratory infection. That, combined with high levels of exhaustion, forced me to take off more days than I actually ran. I told myself to relax and just embrace the recovery, figuring that I would re-structured my plan to get back into it after a few days.

htc finish line party.JPGI guess my body needs extra time to recover from this level of excitement… (Thanks Robyn!)

I’m sure you can guess where this is going…

Last week started off well enough. I had a few great runs early in the week and was excited to attempt some speed. So last Thursday I set off for a 7 mile tempo run, eager to get my legs moving again. Sadly, however, my legs weren’t feeling that same excitement.

I felt like my legs were filled with lead right from the start, and my slow warm up did nothing to loosen them up. In the end, my planned tempo run basically became two fast miles sandwiched in between {what felt like} a death march. I tried to pick up my pace twice, both times with the same result. I would start off feeling okay, like I might be able to hold a quick pace for a few miles. But by a half mile in I was overcome with the sensation that every ounce of my energy was literally seeping out of my legs. It was as though I had holes in my skin. With every step that I took, all my speed and strength were just pouring out onto the pavement. It was an unsettling feeling that quickly left me doubting that I’d even make it home. Somehow I convinced myself to hang on for the remainder of that first fast mile before I gave myself permission to slow down again. I jogged the next mile, stubbornly decided to give the speed one more effort, and promptly failed…yet again.

At this point in the run my new plan became to just finish the dang thing without walking. My 7 mile run (which, at this point in training, shouldn’t be that hard) may as well have been 20. As I shuffled along during those last couple of miles, I lost touch with all rational thought. I told myself that I’d probably never be able to run fast again. It didn’t matter that I’d just raced HTC…my prime was most certainly over and I may as well just accept it now.

And then I began having flashes of myself lying helpless on the side of the road for hours before a random passerby came to rescue me…

Like I said, just a tad bit dramatic. And although I did feel better after my run (and made it home alive and unscathed), the rest of the week didn’t improve. A few awful recovery miles on Friday left me feeling wiped out. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was congested, nauseous and exhausted. My little family went for a short hike on Saturday morning and I found my heart rate soaring with the tiniest incline. I was out of breath and having a hard time keeping up.

This was about when my spirit broke. I came home and spent a long time lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself. Sunday morning, instead of waking up early to try my long run, I slept through both Evan and my alarms and woke up after 10 am feeling discombobulated. I skipped the run again, and instead spent the day perfecting my recipe for homemade Italian bread (so at least I accomplished something, right??)

homemade rustic italian bread

I wish I could say that I woke up this morning feeling like a brand new woman. But despite the promise of a new week that brought with it the perfect running weather, I did not. I knew that it was important for me to just get out there and run whatever I could manage, even if that meant I couldn’t run long. So I made a plan – I’d do a couple out and back routes, and see how far my legs would take me.

I ended up covering 12 miles. It wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t quite the same as the 17 that I had scheduled (though it took enough out of me to have been!). But it was something. 

I spent this morning’s run doing a lot of reflecting…trying to figure out what the heck is going on with me lately and (more importantly) how I can make it better. I know I need to give myself a bit of a break. Sometimes you don’t bounce back from things as quickly as you would like. As much as I wish I was feeling stronger at this point in my marathon training, I have to remember that I’m only working off of two months of running — after almost 4 months of essentially doing nothing but sit on my butt. It feels like I’m making excuses for myself, but oh well…

At the very least, these past couple of weeks have served as good reminders. First, that my speed is still there. It may be tucked away most of the time, but when I need it (like for relay weekends), it’s hiding in reserves ready to come out. Second, my strength is not. Which brings me back to my initial goal all over again. The main point of this training cycle is to build up endurance. To become a stronger runner. I am not going to get to the starting line of NYCM in the best shape of my life, but that is okay. I need to focus on building up the miles and getting myself as ready as can I can be in the time that I have.

I also clearly need to start taking better care of myself. By getting more rest, eating better, taking vitamins, and letting go of some of the stress I’ve been internalizing over the past month. If nothing else, these crappy runs have been a wake up call that I can’t just float my way through training this time around.

This weekend I’ll try running long again. That’s all I can do, day after day. Just keep on keeping on. And really, when it comes down to it, this important truth (which I tweeted last week after my disastrous tempo run) is why I keep on running day after day, week after week, year after year:

Even if the run sucks or workouts don’t go as planned, I always feel better on days that I run than days that I don’t.

Always. always. always. AMEN.

About that Return to Running

…it wasn’t quite as glorious as I had imagined.

Today is Friday, and I’ve run a total of 2 days this week. I plan on bringing that number up to 3 this afternoon. Maybe.

Even though I felt all fired up about running on Sunday night, I didn’t actually run on Monday. A long day spent in the car was enough to take away any motivation that had built up over the weekend. But on Tuesday morning I got up bright and early, determined to make my triumphant return. Before running, I popped in the one workout DVD that I own. I figured that Level 3 of the 30 Day Shred* was exactly what I needed to start toning up muscles that are beginning to feel a little marshmallowy. After 30 minutes with Jillian Michaels (that nearly killed me), it was finally time to run. So I laced up my shoes, strapped on my fully charged Garmin, and was off.

I’d love to tell you that my rested legs returned effortlessly to running. That I floated along the street, so happy to be back out there. That’s what I had imagined my run would be like, anyway. But in reality, I just sort of trudged along slowly. I kept the pace really easy and wasn’t struggling, but I didn’t exactly feel excited about running in that moment. I managed 4.5 miles before knee pain drove me back home.

I attempted another run yesterday, and although that went better than Tuesday’s jog, it brings my total to a whopping 10.5 miles for the week. Maybe I’ll bring that number up to 20 by the weekend. We’ll see. Honestly, I don’t really care about numbers at the moment. My plan for the next couple of months is to just run when I feel like it. Maybe I’ll run 10 miles a week, maybe I’ll run more. I’m not going to stress.

I actually look forward to these down times in my training. They give me a chance to refocus and rebuild. Plus, I think that most of us can agree that as great as running is, it’s not the only (or even the most important) form of physical activity. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m actually in better all around shape when I run less and focus on cross training and lifting more. Partially because it uses different muscles, and partially because I no longer use my mileage as an “excuse” to eat whatever I want.

So when I say that I want to return to training, you should know that I am using that term loosely. Very loosely. I don’t really plan to get back into training until around the 1st of the year. Until then, my very unspecific, totally relaxed {don’t get completely out of shape} plan will consist of:

  • Running 3 – 4 times a week, unless I feel inspired to do more
  • Cross training another 2 – 3 days a week
  • Strength training 2 – 3 times per week

I try to focus more on strength training/lifting when I’m not in the middle of training for a race, not because I love it, but because it makes me stronger. Also, it helps keep off the extra pounds that would otherwise creep on from my reduced mileage and increased holiday food intake. A necessary evil, of sorts. I will say now that I hope to keep up my lifting routine once marathon training starts again, but I’ve never been truly successful with this in the past. So I’m not making any promises.

Anyway the point of this rambling post is this: I may not know everything there is to know about running, but I do know my body. And I know that I do better in the long run when I give myself the chance to rest. If you can jump right back into training after running a hard marathon, more power to you. I am not a runner that can. I don’t fear rest days or weeks when I don’t run as much because my goal is to continue running for a very long time. In the scheme of an entire lifetime, a couple of weeks isn’t going to make or break me as a runner. (If you want to read more, in the past I’ve written in detail about why I think rest is so important)

To close on a completely unrelated note, here are a couple more awesome running picture for you. So flattering. And such model form.

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Please note the crazy fingers in the photo below. For whatever reason, I do weird things with my hands when I get tired. If you see me running with my fingers splayed out like that, it’s a sure sign that I’m not doing so well.

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*I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t really use the DVD correctly. If you ever want to hear more about my super technical 30 Day Shred mentality, I’ll let you know. But basically – I use it more for a core strengthening/toning workout than a way to “shred” the pounds. I don’t do the workouts everyday so whenever I want to workout at home, I just put in Level 3. I’ve never actually done a workout from the other two levels. I assume they’re just okay.

The Beauty of Rest

Last week, I celebrated my PR in the National Marathon by doing the best thing possible – not running. In fact, for an entire week I didn’t log one single workout….and I loved every minute of it.

I’ve briefly touched on this before, but I believe post-marathon (or post-any training cycle) rest is extremely important to avoiding injury and burn out. So while you’ll hear me do crazy things during training like trying to run through injuries and racing while sick, once that marathon is over, it’s time to start making up for all the months of abuse to my body.

Benefits of Recovery

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The benefits of recovery are both physical and mental. Giving yourself a break after a marathon can:

  • Allow your muscles to rebuild themselves
  • Allow any training or race injuries to heal and prevent you from getting new ones
  • Help you get over post-marathon fatigue – and leave you feeling energized
  • Help you avoid getting sick (it’s normal for your immune system to be compromised after running a marathon)
  • Give you a much-needed mental break from the stress of the race and the discipline of the training plan
  • Allow you to do things that you might not have had time to do during training (like sleeping in!)
  • Give you time to reflect on your amazing accomplishment (I read every single one of your wonderfully encouraging comments no less than 26.2 times. I can’t thank you all enough!!)
  • Leave you feeling more motivated to run again (it’s normal to feel unmotivated and to fall out-of-love with running just after a marathon. Giving yourself enough rest can help those feelings go away, and leave you itching to run…instead of dreading or resenting your training.)

Not only that, but not having the pressure to run or stick to a specific schedule can be freeing! It gives you extra time to relax or do something fun, even if that means putting your feet up and catching up on past seasons of Mad Men. And since we all know that showers are really only necessary on days we exercise, think of all the money and time you’ll save by not showering for an entire week! ;)

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The Art of Recovery

Recovery looks a little different for everyone. For me, the week after the race also happened to be a very busy one work-wise. I traveled to a week-long training where I spent long days being overloaded with material. At the end of the day, I was exhausted without having run one step. In this case, taking the full week off of running was more necessary than usual (in fact, you may have noticed that I took a break from all things running related – including blogs). But for other runners, just a few days of inactivity can leave them itching to get out the door.

Regardless of what you do the week after your race, you should recognize one very important fact: recovery takes time.

Koli Hyannis

According to McMillan, research has shown that the muscle damage you get from running a marathon can last up to two weeks. You might not be sore for that entire time, but that doesn’t mean your muscles have completely healed. This is why most marathon recovery plans will have you ease back into your normal training load over the course of 4 – 5 weeks, with extra emphasis on taking it easy during the first 2. This “reverse taper” of sorts can be a scary thing for runners. We work so hard to get up to a certain level of fitness, the last thing we want to do is let it slip away and be forced to start over.

I can’t tell you that you won’t lose any fitness. No matter what you do, you’re going to lose a certain amount of the sharpness you had on race day. And unless you do some type of cardio every 2 – 3 days, you might lose some aerobic fitness as well. But don’t get discouraged! By building back up carefully and slowly, you will avoid burnout and be back in race shape in no time!

I think a lot of runners underestimate the power of rest. Most of us would rather be actively doing something than sitting around. It’s easy to see the benefit of every long run, tempo workout, or race. And it can seem counter-intuitive that sometimes not doing those things can actually make you stronger. But the next time you’re tempted to skip out on the recovery and push your body too much too soon, ask yourself this very important question:

Would you rather run today, or run for the rest of your life?

Taking the steps to make sure your body heals is key if you want to be a runner for life (or at least for many, many years). You’re not going to lose everything that you worked for, or gain 10 pounds, or turn into a big blob that never wants to exercise again. As long as you make a plan, you will be back on the roads and ready to race soon, feeling stronger than you have in a long time.

On the Run Again

There are many different post-marathon recovery plans out there. Some (like McMillan) have you doing a couple of easy runs a few days after the marathon. Others suggest you simply cross train and rest that entire first week. The approach you take might be different, based on what works best for you. If you’re in need of some advice about how to ease back into training again, I would suggest looking to the experts. Here are a few that I recommend:

  1. McMillan’s Marathon Recovery Plan (free) - this plan gives you suggested workouts for just the first 2 weeks post-race. It can be a great place to start.
  2. Running Times: Marathon Recovery, Part II: Getting Back in the Saddle (free) - this plan covers 6 weeks post-race. It provides workouts for each day along with a little background information about what you should do each week (and why).
  3. Runner’s World Marathon Recovery Plan ($9.99) – unfortunately this 4 week plan is not free, but it does come with extra coaching and RW benefits
  4. Kick-Back Plan (free) – another take on training recovery from an NCAA cross country and track coach. This 5 week plan isn’t specific to marathons, but is for the end of any training cycle when you’ve put a lot of stress on your body. It has a heavy focus on rest and slowly easing back into tough workouts.

Don’t fear the rest. Embrace it! Everyone deserves to be a little lazy once in awhile.

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