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Training and Recovery

July 19, 2012

This week I’m working on recovery from the Racine Half Ironman and transitioning back into my normal training schedule. As athletes we sometimes get contradictory messages. We need to keep up a constant training program to achieve our goals. But we also need to be sure to make time for recovery. These messages can seem to tear in different directions, and for many athletes it is easy to forget the recovery part. This is really the same as the rest of our lives. In society today, we have constant pressure to work longer and harder. To be the best. And yet we also want to relax, to stop and smell the roses, to take time off and vacation.

Earlier this week, our coach was encouraging us to “keep the pressure on.” That is, don’t let ourselves just coast and go easy on workouts, don’t let ourselves just skip workouts, don’t let ourselves give up on our goals. At the same time, we were talking about how much time I should be taking off to recover. On Tuesday, when my resting heart rate was 16 beats above normal, my coach reminded me to be sure I took enough time off for my body to recover.

So how do we reconcile these goals? While it will always be a challenge to strike exactly the right balance, for me it helps to think of “keeping the pressure on” as being about remaining focused on training — but understanding training means work and recovery. Training = work + recovery. Skipping a workout when I could be there or showing up for a workout but just going through the motions without trying is not keeping the pressure on. But choosing to skip a workout because my body needs rest, or choosing to show up for a workout but take it a little easier because I’m recovering is different. That can be keeping the pressure on. That’s a deliberate, focused training choice.

If I waited until I felt 100% recovered from Racine, I would have taken a large chunk of time away from my training. A couple days off for recovery was good, but I need to keep training as well. Post-Arizona in November, I may very well take a week or even two weeks mostly off from working out and really let my body fully recover. This is sort of like life. Shorter weekends off and longer vacations are both important, but we can’t take a longer vacation every time we’re tired. We need to keep the pressure on. Sometimes more rest might be the right thing. But sometimes more rest will feel good in the short run but isn’t really what we need in the long run.

Recovery is a deliberate process. As soon as I finished the race in Racine, I gladly took a bag of ice from the medical tent and left it on my neck and shoulders until completely melted to begin cooling myself down. I drank water. And within 20 minutes I was in the food tent, refueling my body. As soon as I got home that evening, I took an ice bath for my legs. And I knew I would be taking Monday off. Initially I had planned to get back into our training plan on Tuesday. Tuesday just called for a swim. But I woke up and my resting heart rate was 56 — 14-16 beats above my normal — and legs were a bit more sore than Monday (that’s typical for delayed onset muscle soreness for the muscles to be more sore two days later). So I took Tuesday off as well.

By Wednesday my resting heart rate was down to 45. A bit elevated, but not as much. My legs were still more sore than usual, but recovering. My left hamstring was particularly tight and calves still hurt, but no acute pain anywhere. Even though I was still recovering, I decided that getting back to training was going to do more for me than another day of rest. We had intervals on the bike that day (hard / easy intervals, riding indoors on the trainer) and later a crossfit workout. I could definitely do the bike, even if I wouldn’t be able to go quite as hard as normal. And after the bike I would asses for crossfit. As expected, I was a bit below my normal threshold on the bike. I pushed for what I could do that day, but did not try to reach my normal threshold. I also did the crossfit workout knowing I might be slower than I normally would have been. After crossfit, I spent a long time rolling out my hamstrings, calves, and IT bands (rolling over one of those foam rollers, very slowly, stopping at pressure points to let the muscle relax and work out knots in the muscle — the stopping at pressure points is the critical part, this should not be a fast motion).

The rest of the week I’ll keep an eye on my recovery. I should be able to do most of the remaining workouts this week, but if I need to, I can always cut one out or take it easy. Keeping the pressure on, right now, means making sure I’m balancing my recovery needs with my work needs so that I can continue to make progress.

122 Days till Ironman Arizona.

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