Feb 15, 2019
Becoming a better runner is simple in theory. Run hard so muscles break down, then rest so those muscles repair and become stronger. Everything gets more complicated when we try to pinpoint the exact amount of time recovery should be, what foods we should eat, and when we should eat them. Do ice baths really work? How about massages? Surely with all the research we have today we should have the answers, right?
Well, yes and no. Again, we know the basics of recovery. We know that recovery is necessary to improve, that certain whole foods are generally better than refined and processed foods. We know sleep is important, and that anxiety and stress slow the recovery process. However, proving that specific techniques are beneficial to every runner’s recovery is difficult.
Christie Aschwanden, athlete, journalist, and scientific method enthusiast, is a recent author of the book “Good to Go.” In her book Christie both debunks and confirms recovery techniques that have been coached for many years. Listen to today’s “Running for Real” podcast or read on to learn more about what recovery methods are tried and true.
One of the most difficult aspects of determining the best recovery techniques is measuring recovery. Even defining recovery can be difficult. In most cases, recovery is measured by performance, which is variable even when recovery is exactly the same. Aschwanden says that the best way to measure recovery is by just asking the athlete, “How are you feeling?” Athletes that are really tuned in to how their body is feeling are best at finding recovery methods that work for them.
"Science is not an answer,” says Christie, “It’s a process.” The very art of the scientific method is narrowing down what is true by finding things that are not true. It takes a long time and a lot of results to come to any conclusions. This means that we shouldn’t trust everything we hear, and we shouldn’t take ourselves or any particular recovery method too seriously. Take the time to read multiple opinions on various recovery topics before forming too strong of an opinion. Chances are that for every article you read on the benefits of “this or that” there is another article debunking that exact method.
Christie says that the first, second, and third most important recovery techniques are sleep, sleep and sleep. “Everything else is minuscule by comparison,” she says, “If you’re not getting enough sleep there is just no way that your recovery will be optimal.” Sleep is when your body makes all its physiological repairs. It’s the time when your mind and body totally relax so that it can focus on recovery.
Sleep ought to be a priority for anyone serious about getting better at their sport. Just like you would never miss a workout or a meal, you shouldn’t miss a full night’s sleep. This does not always come easy. Sleep is often the one thing that we reduce in order to fit everything else in. If something goes amiss in our schedule, it’s usually the first thing to go. Getting the sleep you need can take serious effort, but it is worth every minute.
There are several ways you can make your sleep sacred. Deciding to put phones and other screens away 45 minutes before bedtime and creating a dark and peaceful environment (as much as possible) are great ways to begin. If you have a hard time falling asleep try using a meditation or sleep app before going to bed. Whatever it takes, getting your sleep will pay off.
Apart from sleep, Christie suggests two other recovery techniques that often get overlooked. (1) Find a way to reduce stress and (2) find a recovery ritual.
Recovery is very individually because the amount of stress we have in our lives is unique. Stress cannot always be eliminated, but it can be managed. Stress is detrimental to the healing process, and managing it will help your body and mind recover more quickly.
Lastly, find a recovery ritual that is customized for you. Whether it’s a warm bath, a mindless soap opera, or a compression blanket, find something that signals to your mind and body that it is time to unwind and relax.
Recovery is serious. It is important. It is also important that recovery isn’t stressful. So make time in your schedule to recover and then forget about the world. Taking recovery seriously in a not-so-serious way is exactly what you need to repair and improve.
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Thank you to Christie, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.