Hello and happy new(ish) year!
I don’t really do new year’s resolutions, but I do find that the darkest weeks of the year, during mid-to-late December, are the time when I tend to slow down and reflect a bit, and think about the best ways to move forward.
I’m going to do a mini-series of blog posts about the results of my reflections.
As a long-distance runner and an active personal trainer my personal struggle isn’t usually getting enough exercise, but rather the opposite. It’s tuning into my body and acknowledging when I need to rest and recover.
As I move inexorably through my 40s, I have to admit that I need more recovery time than I used to. If I want to continue running into the next decade and beyond (which, it goes without saying, I most definitely do) I need to plan my recovery as assiduously as I plan my training.
But it’s not just me, and other 40+ athletes, who need to factor in their recovery. In order to stay strong and avoid injury, we all need to allow time to rest and recover.
At one point, in 2017, I was running over 100 miles every week, with very few rest days. My “recovery week” would be once every four weeks or so, and would still be around a 70-mile week. (All this on top of doing resistance training for up to six hours a day on at least three days per week, with my PT clients.) More recently, after (unsurprisingly) some injuries and fatigue, I’ve kept my running to around 40-70 miles per week… But my recovery weeks have been almost non-existent.
Considering I’m a personal trainer and would never dream of working my clients in this way, you’d be forgiven for calling me all kinds of stupid for this. But with many ultra running friends – and other friends (some well into their 60s) who run multiple marathons every single week – and hearing them recount their massive running achievements, the numbers begin to seem normal, and reasonable – even when they’re clearly not.
Also, I’m not always the best at heeding my own advice.
What finally made me realise that I was (literally) running myself towards destruction was that my “long runs” – once around the 31-miles mark but more recently shrinking towards 13.1 – were becoming harder and harder, and less and less enjoyable. I constantly felt tired and dissatisfied with my workouts – running and otherwise.
s part of my new focus on recovery, I’ve kept my running mileage more moderate during the week. I’ve run hard on two week days, with some speed training or similar, but on the remaining weekdays, I’ve kept things very gentle – lots of Jeffing and very low mileage. Then, at the weekends, one long run and one shorter aerobic run. I’ve continued with my resistance training, but haven’t overdone it. Possibly the most important thing I’ve done is to factor in a proper recovery week at least once every three weeks, but sometimes every two weeks, when my long run is no longer than the half marathon distance.
The result? On Saturday, I did a 21-mile run (the furthest I’ve been able to run in a long time) and loved it. My legs felt strong and relatively fresh. The ennui that had been a constant companion recently just wasn’t there. I felt like I used to feel during long runs – excited, and with a sense of being on an adventure. Even when it got hard, I still had that sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.
The moral of the story?
Recovery is a vitally important part of training. Whether you’re a complete beginner and your longest runs are 20-30 minutes, or you’re an ultra runner whose long runs are closer to 20-30 miles, having regular weeks when you cut back (relative to what is “normal” for you) and allowing your body to truly rest and recover, is vital for making progress, or maintaining your training over an extended period of time.
We need to learn to listen to our bodies – to acknowledge when we’re tired, ill, injured or flagging. To listen to our minds, too – to mix things up a bit when the old routes and training plans get a bit stale. Mental recovery is as important as physical recovery.
Many of us for whom exercise has become a way of life find it very difficult to take a break. We might worry about losing fitness, or about our Strava targets, or about missing the runner’s high, or about not burning off our usual daily quota of calories. We might also worry that taking time off – even if we’re still running or working out every day, but for a significantly reduced time – might lead to us getting used to having that extra time to do other things, meaning that it’s harder to return to normal training.
Tips for those who find recovery difficult
1 – Make recovery active
Don’t turn over that hour (or two or three) to sitting around watching tv or (unless you need more sleep) lying in when you would normally get up to run. Go for a walk instead of a run. Or – and this is my personal favourite on down days – do a bit of Jeffing. This means that you’re still keeping that time open for your running and working out, but with a lot less stress and strain on your system. Personally, I’ve found Jeffing to be THE best way of recovering from more intense training, and even from niggles and minor injuries.
2 – Make recovery interesting
You know when you go for your run usually and you’ve planned to do it at a certain pace, or to take a certain time or do a total of miles, meaning that you always run past that interesting-looking trail in the forest, or those little alleyways and roads that you always wonder about, but never have time to explore? Well, active recovery weeks might be the time to remedy that.
Or, work out a route on Strava (or similar) that spells a word or makes a spiral. Make recovery weeks the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t usually be able to incorporate into your runs or workouts.
3 – Make recovery sociable
This is the perfect time to workout or run with a friend who’s at an earlier stage of their fitness journey, or a later stage – ie, they’re an older person who runs more slowly than they used to, forcing you to go slower, walk a bit, keep the mileage down… all while getting out there and being active, with the bonus of spending time with another runner. In the case of running with older runners, this might also be an opportunity to learn from someone who might have decades of useful experience to draw from.
Run with your children if you have them. This can be the most rewarding running you’ll ever do. It will slow you down (assuming they’re not super-fit teenagers!) and will help your children to get into being active outdoors. It’s also an opportunity to connect with them, away from the ubiquitous mobile phones!
Next up on my focus points: Balance.
Please feel free to comment with your own experiences of over-doing it, learning how to recover and managing your training. Likewise, as always please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, or just want to chat.
Till next time!