As I recover from Marathon #10 (see previous blog) and prepare for another high mileage ultra-season, I have a chance to reflect on the things I have learned over the years of running marathons and ultra-marathons. No matter what training program you use; high or low mileage, fast or slow, 3 days or 7, there remains things that are essential to a strong runner. It took me years of learning of the hard way to figure them out, but now that I know.. They are basically the main chapters in my running bible.
The dreaded "R word". Rest, time off, not running, UGH, who has time for all that? I mean we have a race train for! URCH! Pump your breaks. You have time for it, and actually you need it. Now, I will be the first to admit that historically I have been really awful at this, and from time to time still am. I really really like running. I like the social aspect, I like the alone time aspect, I like that it helps me work through a tough day, I like roads, I like trails. I. Like. Running.
But I also really like Rest, now that I understand it. See what happens when you don't take that important rest day or two, is that you overuse your muscles, causing fatigue, and when you constantly run on fatigued muscles... well you can guess... you end up injured or burned out.
Let me talk about what Rest is and is not.
Rest is- not running
Rest is- enjoying some down time
Rest is not- running slow
Rest is not- cross-training.
Rest IS- Taking a day off to heal
I take one rest day per week. This training cycle it was Sunday's the majority of the cycle. The day after my long run. I would use my day to prep my food for the week, spend QT with Waylon (my adorable labrador who is my partner in crime), catch up my with social circle, and catch up on life outside of running. When I started back to doing back-to-back long runs, and as I enter into this Ultra Training cycle, I will move my rest day to Monday. It is scheduled and non-negotiable.
Post-race I REST multiple days. My last marathon was Saturday. I rested Sunday, I rested Monday, and then I rested on Wednesday too.
Okay, so what is the difference between rest and recovery? Recovery is active. Recovery is just what it sounds like,it is helping the muscles recover.
So what do you do to recover? Some of my favorites are: a good foam rolling session, quality time with my Addaday ( which I fondly call my torture device), a 20 minute stretch routine using a recovery band and timing one minute per stretch, yoga, and slow recovery runs (60-90 seconds slower than race pace).
Foam Rolling: foam rollers come in many shapes and sizes. My current one is pink (because I am girly). and when I roll I make sure to isolate each muscle group and slowly use my body weight to apply pressure as I roll. I really like my foam roller for my IT band and quads. It is also great for some hamstrings and calves, although I usually use my addaday for those (more on that later). I know some people who use the roller on their back. My next investment will be a foam roller that has knobs on it for more of an intense foam rolling experience. **And it also make a great pillow for when your laying on the floor** heehee
Addaday: Satan's own creation of a torture device ;-) . And it has saved my legs during a 100k race, and kept me healthy through high intensity training cycles. In case you have never used one, here is what it is. It is a stick with notched balls on it. It is different than the typical stick in that you use shorter, smaller movements to work into tight and knotted muscles to break them up. There are you-tube videos or good ole trial and error in using it. I prefer it for my hamstrings, quads, and It-band. I love love love it and it travels with me at almost all times. (Please note I am not at all connected to Addaday).
Resistance Band: I use a resistance band as part of my stretches. Especially with my hamstring and hip stretches. This allows me to pull my legs up further into a stretch and allow me maneuver into good hip stretches.
Stretching: DO IT! Any advice I could give to my former self, stretch! It is hands down the piece I have the biggest issue with. And I know runners who swear that they never need to stretch. I can talk to both sides of the argument if needed, but ultimately I have found that I feel better and healthier when I make a post run stretch something I do as well as add in 2-3 20 minute stretch routines each week.
Recovery Run: It is okay to have a recovery run. And if you are going to do them, they should be short and 60-90 seconds slower than pace.
If you would have told me a year ago I would be promoting regular cross training as part of running I would have probably looked at you like you had lost your damn mind and laughed. Man, my thinking of years past was wrong. I know that now. Case in point is this last marathon. I added in cross-training 2-3 days a week and it is the absolute strongest training season I have ever had, as well as being injury free. On top of that, even though it wasn't my fastest marathon, I can say with 100% surety that it was my strongest. If that had been a flat course instead of the monster hill hell, I would smashed my PR. Even then, I was only 3 minutes behind my pr on a course that would make a hair raising roller coaster
So what is cross-training? That depends on you. Everyone does something different. I have been polling other runners as well as looking what I have done and here are what I have found.
Me: Twice a week I am at the gym. One day is more a full body lift where I do some upper body, some lower body. When I do lower body I do: weighted squats (front squats and back squats), weighted lunges, sled press, and a glute press. The days I do legs I only do a small amount of upper body, mainly doing pull-ups and dips. This day was really helps strengthen my leg muscles in a different way than I usually use them, which helps them stay strong when fatigued going up and down hills. I really noticed a difference in the speed in which I would get tired during training runs. Ya, I was sore, and running on sore legs. But it paid off!
The other day is purely upper body where I focus on back, shoulders, and arms. This I found really helped my posture as I get tired during training runs and during the race. When you get tired you a.) lose your posture which affects your gait and b.) get tense which causes muscles to tighten up. But by spending time working those muscles I am able to keep them engaged when I get tired.
Both of those days I would swim after I lifted. The first day would be my long swim day.
**Now, let me clarify something here, I. Am. Not. A. Strong. Swimmer. I mean, my Mom took me for swim lessons as a kid and I refused to get in the water because I was scared. And the ONLY reason I finally learned how to swim is my brother and our friends all could pass the swim test to get into the deep end of the pool and I was tired of being left out. So I taught myself the basics. Swimming is not easy for me, I sink, I have more than once kicked either the bottom of the pool or the lane divider, and I don't want to think about how much chlorine I have ingested. But I show up twice a week, and I have massively improved through trial and error and advice of other runners. I also have come to look forward to the quiet of the pool, where I can turn off my thoughts and move through a silent environment.
Sometimes I would also add in a third day where I did body-weight training at home, and some yoga. I also tried to do at least a few minutes of abs 5-6 days a week, nothing major, just a few minutes. During the off-season I do 10-20 minutes, but I struggled to keep up that time commitment. But I didn't want to ignore them as a strong core helps you also keep a good posture when tired.
I also polled some other runners I know. What I found is that most of my fasthole run buddies and strong running partners also do 2-3 days a week of cross training. They also lift, focusing on upper body and leg work, abs work, yoga, swimming, and some do biking as well. There are some really great cross-training for runner workouts out there on the internet that one of my running buddy swears by. There is a running for yoga that several of my run buddies use and adore. Some runners use workouts created by at home challenge pages, some (like myself) kind of make it up as they go at the gym. But it all ends up the same. Cross Training Helps during training and on race day.
Everyone who knows me well knows that I protect my gym days with some intensity. I will get up stupidly early to run so I can go to the gym, I will skip an easy run so I don't give up my gym day, and have even scheduled social plans around my gym time as well. I look forward to lifting and swimming twice a week.
So Rest, Recovery, and Cross-training. They are important. They will make you a stronger and healthier runner. And if you have the same mind-set I had for years of " I am healthy, why change anything", being pro-actively smart never hurt anyone.