It’s been five weeks since I started working out with any sort of consistency, three of which have been spent making a conscious effort to run with purpose. I really struggled with writing this post because I’ve done it in the past and had setbacks almost as instantly as hitting “publish” (see: Frustrated and Second Opinions and No Running). To say I’m nervous to post about my recovery in such optimistic tones again is an understatement — but I feel confident and in all honesty, if it doesn’t work this time around, I have absolutely no idea what else to do.
I know many other runners can relate to to my previous pre-hab and recovery routine. In fact, an elite runner I follow on social media once posted about how they had never used a foam roller before. For me this was a little bit like “Wow, it’s not just me!” I would lace up and take off, never truly warming up or stretching unless my body was really hurting for it. My recovery consisted of coming home to shower and curling up into a ball on the couch – foam roller and R8 within an arms distance, but never used. I was resting my legs, so that was proper recovery, right? Wrong. It worked for well over a year but as soon as I increased my training and pushed, my body pushed back and ultimately broke.
I can’t pinpoint the “it” thing that is helping me recover so well and it likely isn’t just one thing I’ve changed, but a combination of them all. Before every run, I make sure I have at least five minutes (preferably closer to fifteen) to stretch out. At the bare minimum, I always do the World’s Greatest Stretch, the kneeling sequence, and the standing hamstring stretch. Ideally, I will also include a quick foam roll for my calves along with mini band walks and squats to wake up my glutes. On top of this, most of my runs happen immediately after I come home from work. I live on the top floor (5th) of my building so I take the stairs up to my apartment, then back down before my run which gets the blood flowing.
As soon as I step out for my run, I leave my ego at the door. Despite the blog name, I’m not fast in comparison to many other runners in this area, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t become very humbled during these runs. It’s a common problem — we don’t run hard enough on the hard efforts and we don’t slow down enough to let ourselves recover. I know that I should realistically be running around 10:00 miles in my best shape for long runs (and I never did), and now I should be edging closer to 11:00 to keep the efforts easy enough. I’m struggling with that still. I run mostly on effort (can I sing along to my music?) but attempt to stay as close to 10:30 as possible, which I’ve been relatively successful at thus far. When I’m feeling good, I pick it up at the end of my run for a few minutes just to make sure I still have it — my kick has always been my strong suit. I also make sure to stop about a quarter of a mile before reaching my finishing destination (the car, the apartment, etc.) so I can walk to get my heart rate back down. I never took this time before, but it really is a necessary evil.
In addition to the actual run, I’m easing into the increases each week. I don’t plan my runs out, I just attempt to go 2-3 times each week and the length depends on time constraints for the most part. I am trying to to the 10% increase based on minutes, now that I have a consistent schedule going and the intended plan is every 3-4 weeks of increased running, to have a little cut back week to stay ahead of the feeling of needing a recovery day. During my 2013 Buffalo Half Marathon training, I frequently had days where I knew I needed the rest day and I’d rather not go down that path again.
Another major part of recovery is my cross training. I’ve started going to CrossFit once or twice a week, which I’ve talked about a bit lately. The box I’ve joined (and the other which I had my Amazon deal through) is more about natural movement than the typical CrossFit box that many people envision when they hear the word. The perfect example is during this past week’s Fran workout (the staple CF baseline), we were told basically to not kill yourself doing the workout to the point where you can’t function over the following days, push yourself hard, but this isn’t the place where you’re risking your quality of life for a workout. Our warm-ups and movement prep are all exercises I’m so familiar with from physical therapy and things I should be incorporating into my training, not including the actual WODs (workout of the day) which incorporate the strength training I always lacked in previous training cycles. I’m aware that I struggle with cross training on my own and likely wouldn’t do it. The price to pay for the membership I need (10 classes at CFNC is $125) which I will use over 2 months is well worth my money and any sacrifices I may need to make in my budget.
And last, but certainly not least, I’m finally taking the time after my workouts to stretch and self massage. I have a nicer area in my new apartment to foam roll, R8, and stretch out which makes it a lot easier than before. Once I started incorporating this last part into my routine, I grew to love it more than the actual workouts. It’s a good time to calm down, re-focus, and de-stress.
All these changes to my training have probably added about 30 minutes to each workout I do. If I was going out for a thirty minute run, I only dedicated thirty minutes to the training that day. Now it’s more like a full hour for a 30 minute run because of my pre and post run routines. It’s still a struggle when I am crunched for time to avoid skipping the important warm-up and cool-downs, but I’m getting better at it. It’s just a big shift in how I think about training. The training isn’t just the run; it’s everything you do before and after which makes the whole.
Training is a funny thing because so many runners read all about the latest recovery techniques, training plans, and injury prevention but how many actually dedicate the necessary time? I’m not an expert nor am I perfect, but firsthand I know how devastating a nagging injury is and what happens when you don’t strengthen your weaknesses, especially the ones that genetics pin against you. Understanding your body’s needs and fulfilling them is the key — what works for you might not work for me and visa versa. It took me over a year to gain that understanding but now that I do, the results are nothing short of recovering for my next workout like a total badass. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like a badass again.