I wrote a blog post in 2015 entitled the Art of Recovery. The gist of that post was to run slow, really slow, a couple days a week and particularly after a race. Well enough, but there’s a whole lot more to consider. Also, that post was not specifically geared to masters runners whereas this one is. I’m drawing some points made by Peter Reaburn in his comprehensive book, The Masters Athlete.
The main purpose of recovery is to avoid injury. As masters runners, we are particularly vulnerable to injury after races and an extremely intense workout or series of workouts. For a 5K, the recovery period is three to five days, for a half marathon a couple weeks, and several weeks for a marathon. Research suggests one day of recovery for every mile raced. However, this assumes the following:
- We went into the race sufficiently trained and rested. If we trained long and hard up until the day or two before the race, then we likely had muscle and tissue damage lingering, which the race added to. This means more than the standard time to fully recover.
- Our fundamental biomechanics are sound. If we excessively pronate, for example, and have not taken steps to correct that, then our muscles, bones, and joints in the hips and lower extremities will be heavily stressed. Again, suggesting the need for more recovery time.
- We’ve been doing the requisite strength and flexibility training. Training for everybody shortens and tightens muscles, which restricts our range of motion. But us masters also have less forgiving tendons and ligaments. Both basic exercise science and the effects due to aging dictate a need for regular static stretches, held for 30 seconds for full benefit. On the strength side, masters lose muscle faster than younger runners and need to work diligently to replace what we can. The pounding from a race, probably run in racing flats, calls on these diminishing muscles to absorb the shock before it impacts our joints.
- The course and conditions were somewhat “normal.” If the weather was abysmal, as was the case for the 2018 Boston Marathon, all body systems are excessively stressed. If the course has many steep ups and downs (or in the case of Mt. Washington just one hill!), this too adds stress.
Assuming there are no red flags flying from these four points (please be honest with yourselves on each point), then we have to look at our weekly training schedule to make sure we’re not training too hard or long or competing too often.
Specifically with respect to recovery, racing puts stress on various systems. For example, there is an emotional and hormonal rush from racing we don’t experience in our daily training. That’s great and it can help us go faster, but can’t go to the well too often or it runs dry. And during the recovery period, it’s good to ratchet down the volume. We’re not going to lose our fitness if we run 25-30 miles for a couple weeks instead of 40-50. But we might slow down our recovery and set ourselves up for injury if we continue a normal load. Our muscles are working hard to repair the damage – let’s give them a chance to do their work!
I am assuming race times and efforts are meaningful to you. They are to me! My race schedule (always subject to change) is set at the beginning of the year. And it behooves us to space our races so we have the best chance of being prepared to have both good race times and a fun experience . Sometimes that’s beyond our control. For example, this year the first two USATF-NE Grand Prix races are just 13 days apart, the first being a half marathon and the second a 15K. Then two weeks after the 15K, the BAA 5K (a large marquee race during the Marathon weekend) comes along. I never would have chosen this schedule but it is what it is. Thus, it’s important to check expectations and make sure to allow for sufficient recovery between these races. For me, that means a lot of days in the pool!
Let’s always keep the long view in mind. Most of us have had enough injuries to know what tips things out of kilter. We can learn from that and stay in the game instead of on the sidelines!