January 4, 2013

Jake's Recovery Keys in Marathon Training

I used my Holiday Training Camp post earlier this week as a way to transition to a more important topic - recovery. I was asked: How do you maintain consistency - high mileage, quality workouts, races - over a long period of time without breaking down your body and mind? I don't claim to have all the answers, but its a fun topic to think about and discuss. When I started to make a list, I realized that I do a lot of things that I don't even think about... they become automatic after a while.

I actually used to be very injury prone - in college and for the couple years after. But I've made some adjustments over the years, and the results have been amazing. Andrea has helped me with a lot of it - especially the emphasis on sleep and protein. Of the items on this list, those very well could be the two most important.

Hopefully, some of my "keys" can be useful in your own approach. And so you know, I take a lot more stock in anecdotal evidence and personal experience than peer-reviewed research and what the "experts" say. These are listed in no particular order, except that I grouped the ones dealing with nutrition...

Consistent Volume / Mileage
Mileage can either build you up or break you down. To be consistent, you first have to be consistent. Talk about talking in circles! :-)

The fact that I already run a lot of miles allows me to recover a lot faster. How do you get to that point? That's a bigger (and very interesting) topic, and I'll post my thoughts next week.

Run Easy
Hard days hard, easy days easy. I never push the pace on my recovery runs, and do a lot of running at 7:30-8:30 pace on those days. A lot of mornings, the day after hard workouts, I'm not even cracking 9 minutes for the first mile or two (or three). Give your body a chance to loosen up. "Pressing" increases your injury risk and is downright silly on easy days. What do you really have to prove on those runs?

Live like a clock
The body loves routine. Exercising twice a day sort of becomes the easier thing to do. I do the majority of my running in the morning. I don't have to think about it - alarm goes off, get up and go. Then I run again after work. Automatic. Having a set time that you are going to run (assuming your job doesn't require you to work crazy, non-routine hours) helps you stay consistent. Same goes for sleeping... go to bed at the same time every night (or as close to that normal time as possible)... and while we're on that topic...

8 hours a night will do wonders. Your body repairs itself while you are asleep. All kinds of stuff is going on while you are laying inside your fleece sheets (yes, fleece sheets, its cold in the winter!) There is all kinds of science to back this up - but everyone knows how good you feel when you get enough sleep (and how bad you feel when you don't). This is an area where I have really improved. In 2012 I started logging my sleep hours, and it came out to an average of just over 8 hours per night. That might seem like a lot of wasted time, but the quality of the other 16 hours per day is a lot greater. During the week I go to bed at 9pm every night. I'll stay up later if I know I'm going to get to sleep in a bit on the weekends... but usually I'm bored by 9pm anyways! Now, this is not to say sleep is more important than the training itself. If I go to bed later, I'm not going to sleep through my morning workout... but you try not to make a habit of staying up too late. The rest allows you to absorb the workload.

The Stick
There are a million gadgets out there for stretching and massaging. I use the original stick that I got when I was in high school, and that's it. I do this for a couple minutes every night... get the kinks out of my hamstrings, quads, and calves. I also do some self-massage on my achilles tendons when I am feeling some tightness (which is often b/c I have a perpetual knot in my right achilles).

Alternate shoes - Different pairs, Different types
I brought 5 pairs of shoes with me to Arizona over Christmas. When Andrea and I go on vacation, we usually have a separate bag just for all of the footwear we haul along. I think one of the best ways to prevent injuries is to constantly be changing your footwear so you don't get used to doing the same thing all the time. Right now I am alternating between two different pairs of Kinvaras (a minimalist trainer), Rides (neutral cushion), Triumph (a super plush cushion shoe for shakeout runs), Mirages (neutral trainer), Fastwitch (marathon flat for tempo runs), Type As (flat for speed workouts). That's like 7 pairs in my usual weekly rotation. The added bonus is that the shoes all last longer as well, since you aren't beating down the same pair every day. Like the human body, shoes tend to perform better when you stress them, then let them recover.

Compression Socks / Sleeves
I wear compression socks or sleeves all day, every day at work. Since I am sitting at a desk most of the day, it helps my legs feel good for my afternoon run. I also always wear them while traveling (airplanes or long car rides). I used to think the compression garments were a gimmick... until I started actually using them. I became a believer very quickly. They make a difference.

I don't have perfect mechanics, but I'm a natural midfoot striker and I think that alleviates a lot of the pounding my body would otherwise be taking.

Mental Attitude
I firmly believe there is a strong mind-body connection. I like to tell myself its not cold outside (even when it is), and that seems to make it seem less cold to me. The same goes for recovery - I assume that I am going to bounce back and feel better when I am tired. Usually my body will follow what my mind wants/expects to happen. Just be positive, that's mainly what I'm saying. A positive mental attitude (Andrea gets SICK of me using that term!) goes a long way!

Training by Feel / Listen to the Body
This is a subject for another long post (that I am working on), but I also strongly believe that you cannot write out a 12 week training schedule and expect to follow it even close to exactly. In fact, I think that would actually be somewhat stupid. I'm paraphrasing Renato Canova: athletes should not follow a training plan, but instead the training plan should follow the athlete. You have to make adjustments and tweak things all the time, you have to be very fluid and understand that no single workout matters all that much - the big picture does, the combination of all the individual pieces. That doesn't mean bailing on a hard interval session every time you feel fatigued and just lazily jogging around all the time. Sometimes the right thing to do is actually run a hard session when you are tired... especially in half-marathon / marathon training. The bottom line is that you have to find a way to be objective and honest with yourself (especially if you are self-coached). And if you can do that, I actually think its an advantage to be self-coached, because no one but you knows exactly how you feel and are responding to every workout session. But its not easy to be objective and I wouldn't necessarily recommend most athletes taking that approach. In additional to being able to hold yourself back, you also have to have the mental capacity to really push yourself hard even when you don't want to. You have to be accountable to yourself.

Be SUPER LAZY Sometimes
There's nothing wrong with coming back from a hard workout (especially on the weekends or a day off from work), plopping down on the couch, and watching movies for hours, only taking a break to make the short walk to the kitchen to get more food and drinks. You need those kinds of days when you are training hard!

I'm not going to try and pretend to understand this aspect of it - other than I realize that I have the ability to recover quicker than most, and genetic predisposition obviously has something to do with it. So... thanks Mom and Dad!

Support system
Friends, family, training partners. I have an amazing group of people that believe in me and challenge me. Their encouragement helps me get out the door when its minus 10 or positive 110 degrees outside. I want to make these people proud of me - I want to inspire them like they inspire me. We're all a part of something that is much bigger than ourselves in this sport, and its important to realize that.

Get enough of them. Yes, being light is advantageous. But when you get down to what some would call "ideal race weight", you are walking a fine line... a razor's edge. You can do some amazing running, but you can also fall apart very easily. And its tough to bounce back once you start to lose your strength. I believe having a small buffer zone, staying just a tad above your ideal weight, allows you to recover quicker on a day to day basis. And you can still run fast. In October 2011, I panicked because my weight shot up a couple pounds before the Long Beach Half Marathon. Andrea told me to shut up and get over it. I went out and ran 1:05:45, probably my best race to date. Plus, food is absolutely delicious, so eat it. I put down an embarrassing amount of ice cream. But the engine needs fuel if you are going to run nearly 6000 miles a year. Other high-mileage runners agree.

The most important food group for recovery (yes, even more important than ice cream). Instead of summarizing 8th grade health class and how amino acids work, lets just agree that your muscles cannot repair themselves without adequate protein. Anyone who thinks otherwise its nuts. And speaking of nuts, I believe (like Ron Swanson) that the best forms of protein come from meat. So I eat lots of animals - cows, chickens, turkeys, deer, fish. I also like to eat a lot of egg whites - another great source (but low on cholesterol, which is good because high cholesterol runs in my family).

Iron Rich Foods / Vitamin Supplements
Iron deficiency is so common among endurance athletes, especially skinny distance runners. I eat tons of spinach, occasional red meat, and other iron-rich food sources. I also take a daily multivitamin and an iron supplement a few times per week during cycles of harder training. I don't have a perfect diet, but I think its pretty good. I eat a wide variety of vegetables everyday, although I could be better about fruit consumption. The multivitamin is just "insurance" to make sure I never get low on anything. I've had my iron tested twice during the past year and both times the results were very good...

The three supplements I would recommend taking are Iron (fatigue), Vitamin D (stress fractures), and Fish Oil (joint health)... or really pay attention to making sure you get enough of those things in your diet.

Diet Mountain Dew
You're just going to have to trust me on this one. Like I said above, I'm not using science to back up all of these claims. I'm using personal experience. If you don't believe me, take HER word for it...

Love It
Sometimes getting up early for a hard workout is tough, the day to day grind can be exhausting... but if you love the sport and find meaning in it (yes, I'm paraphrasing Without Limits), it's worth it 100% of the time. Being passionate about what you are doing ties into that mind-body connection... when you want something, you'll find a way to get it. And that isn't just going to make you a better runner, its going to make you a better PERSON.

I think you should keep things simple. Stick to things that you'll actually do without expending excess mental / physical energy. You can wear yourself out simply reading about all the recovery "secrets" (let alone doing them), and the information is changing all the time. "The Stick" that came out decades ago still works today just fine, and I've had success with it, so I just go with what I know works. None of the things I listed really take any additional time out of my day... they are all pretty easy to do. Eat a balanced diet, do some sort of massage, get enough sleep, alternate your shoes, stay mentally engaged. Not rocket science.

I definitely have room for improvement. I need to extend the duration of my "down" periods of training after hard cycles and peak races. I also can clean some things up with my diet. Those are some of my goals for the upcoming year.

I don't pretend to run 140 miles a week and feel good all the time. That's why I run slow on easy days... I take what my body gives me. On hard days, the tables turn. I've found the balance that I can handle... I've found a system that works for me, and that's what everyone should strive to do. Make it fit into your life, make it your own routine. If you take recovery seriously, you'll enjoy training even more, and you'll run faster! But don't obsess about it either...

I'll finish with a quote I really like from Vern Gambetta's "Lessons from 2012" -
We must take a giant step back and look at what we are doing with recovery. I think we need to learn to use recovery methods more judiciously. Not necessary to ice bath after every workout. We need to understand that the inflammatory cascade is part of the adaptation process. Must educate the body to take advantage of this not interfere with this all the time.


  1. This is just such an excellent post I am not really even sure what to comment on. You really seem to have things figured out and you are such a fantastic role model for the sport of running. I could not agree more with every point you make...okay except maybe the mt. dew one. :-) Thanks so much for being willing to share these tips Jake!

  2. Outstanding article Jake! All of your points are totally applicable to the slowpokes like me as well as the speedsters like you (and Rachelle). Keep the articles coming! Good luck with your 2013 goals!

  3. Going to share this my HS team... And just as important, their parents. Nice work Jake.

  4. This is one of the most complete injury-prevention posts I've ever read. Thank you. I am so injured right now (multiple injuries!) but I used to never get injured. This list is helping me find my weaknesses. I'm a big believer in consistency: Every injury I've had occurred after a period of mileage DECREASE. It's not the high mileage that hurts you, it's the ramping back up from low mileage!
    I also agree that we should keep things simple and let the body recover the way it naturally should. That means yes, laying off the ice! (Gosh, how can anyone recover with constant blood flow restriction?) and of course being gentle with massage and foam roller. Immediate deep tissue massage after a tough workout can separate fibers that already have microtears.
    When (if) I get back into running and racing I will make sure I'm watching my iron, protein, and sleep. Sleep is easy to skip out on. I'll be bookmarking this page to refer to once I'm back! Thanks!

    1. Ramping back up too fast can be risky, that's for sure.

      I hope I didn't lead anyone down the wrong road w/ that quote on ice. I think its an important part of recovery from injuries. But that doesn't mean you should ice after every single run if you are healthy. The body needs to figure out how to deal with some stress on its own.

  5. Great post. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who takes as much running stuff/shoes as other stuff on vacation.

    I'm partial to the foam roller recently rather than the stick- no particular reason. And I'm jealous of your 8 hrs sleep per night and ability to nap. Your attention to your body shows in your great training and racing.

    1. Well your vacations are probably like ours, Jon... they include a lot of running and outdoor adventures.

      Yeah I don't think there is much difference b/w the stick or foam roller... whichever one you will actually USE is the best one :-)

  6. This is awesome. Great information. I really need to make getting enough sleep a priority.

    Do you focus on getting in a set amount of protein a day?

    1. I don't keep track of it (in terms of amounts)... but I just try to eat protein for breakfast and dinner every day (the meals after workouts).

  7. Awesome post Jake! I especially liked the compression socks and nightly message ideas. I found huge value in this post. Cheers!