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The Other 23

Most runners who are passionate about their sport set a personal goal and are eager to get to work at the start of the season. Week after week they train hard as they log more miles and push the pace harder than ever before. At first this methodology seems to be working as their pace improves and they PR early in the season. Yet if you follow this athlete a little longer the complete story will unfold: the story of burnout, fatigue, pace plateau and in some cases injury. 

Why does this happen? Is it possible for an athlete continue to train hard and crush PR’s season after season? How?

The Why

Most athletes who are injured or who have plateaued in their training repeatedly ask themselves, “Why?” At the running store I come face to face with many disgruntled runners who assuredly report, “I was logging the miles and putting in the work! I just don’t understand what happened?! My body just gave out!”

What happened is that the athlete overloaded their body with more miles and intensity than it was capable of safely managing. The human body is an awe-inspiring machine that will work overtime to absorb the wear and tear of tough training, and will allowing for many athletes to temporarily PR early in the season. Unfortunately the body can only absorb so much fatigue in its system before the system is overloaded, the switch is flipped and the system shuts down permanently. Enter plateau, burnout and dare I say it- injury.

Training smarter, not harder.

An athlete on the brink of burnout often feels that they are training as hard as they possibly can by logging many miles at pace and often wonders “I’m putting in ‘the work’; how on Earth can I possibly work harder?”

Improving in the run game is not necessarily about working harder on the run itself, but rather the runner needs to work smarter. For many runners the real ‘work’ to be done rests in how they spend the other 23 hours of the day. Whether the goal is to go from an 11 to a 10 min pace or a 7 to a 6 min pace, any athlete looking to improve their run game should ask themselves,

“What am I doing during and after my run to help my body recover, rebuild and prepare for the next run?  Am I fueling my body with the best nutrients to repair and reuel for my next run? Am I stretching/rolling out to prevent tightness? Am I prioritizing my sleep at night to give my body stress-free time to fully recoup?”

Training runs build an athlete’s fitness by gently overloading the system and forcing it to adapt. These intense workouts create tears within the muscle fibers that will grow, rebuild and strengthen post-run. The remarkably adaptable human body will always fight to recover from this stress, however the runner himself has the power to help this process along by prioritizing run recovery. Proper recovery techniques (i.e. nutrition, rest, etc) will decrease the amount of time and energy the body spends on getting back to status quo. With this the athlete carries over less fatigue from run to run and is able to effectively execute their toughest workouts of the week. 

Run recovery begins on the run, plain and simple. Proper fueling and hydration on the run allows a runner to safety mediate the stress demands of the workout. The long run digs a metaphorically large hole of fatigue from which you will need to repair and recover; hydrating/ fueling during these runs minimizes the size of that hole.  Many runners report that they don’t technically ‘need’ nutrition to complete their long run, and in a way they are right. However, training is more than one long run, but stress and fatigue that threads together throughout a training season. Proper nutrition on the run is a huge piece in the recovery puzzle.

Recovery starts DURING runs but hydrating and fueling properly with a fuel belt/pack. 

Runners are notorious for pretending that the other 23 hours of their day don’t impact their run game. Well, they do! Runners need to face the facts: your running impacts the rest of your life and the rest of your life impacts your running. The sooner that a runner can admit that their stressful job, limited sleep and eating habits may impact the quality of their morning training run, the sooner that the runner can work to develop a recovery plan. With this the notion of ‘putting in the work’ subtly shifts from running hard to training smart, staying focused and PR’ing season after season.

Sleep: the most powerful and least expensive recovery tool of all.

Key Recovery Techniques

How many of the recovery techniques listed below do you use to help your body recover and rebuild from one run to prepare it for the next run?

  • Refueling with a protein drink (with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio) within 30 min post run
  • Fueling/eating foods with nutrients that nourish the body (i.e. Consuming beet juice, like Beet Performer, helps reduce muscular inflammation post-run)
  • Resting! Getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep a night.
  • Post-long run recovery nap.
  • Using NormaTec recovery boots to ice/massage legs/promote blood flood
  • Monthly deep tissue massages
  • Foam roller
  • Stretching
  • Compression garmets

Foam rolling and self massage are two time and cost effective ways to keep running injuries at bay.

The two pillars of a successful marathon training from season to season include (1) a training plan customized to your unique fitness level and (2) prioritizing run recovery on a daily basis. Athletes equipped with both a solid training plan and recovery plan have an edge up on the competition as they are maximizing the role they play in their training, leaving as little as possible to chance. These athletes aren’t necessarily training harder than those around them, but they sure are training smarter. 

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