Your Body is Talking. Are You Listening? A Guide on Overtraining and Recovery.

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Endurance sports have exploded in the past decade around the globe. Where there used to be an “off season” in the winter, there are now heavily sponsored world-class 50k races and marathons. One 100 mile per year has now become one series of  five 100 milers per year. Yes, this is incredible to witness and be inspired by. It is an even more incredible feat to accomplish. Some people may be able to pull off many races in a year, or for a couple of years. However, in order to continue grow as athletes, there must be rest and recovery. Our bodies are remarkable machines and have many ways they communicate with us. Here is how to know what your body is saying, and how to react.

A common trait in endurance athletes is going and going, not giving their body the time it needs to complete a recovery cycle. If we jump back into action before catching back up with ourselves, our body goes in to a recovery deficit. This applies stress to multiple systems on the body, and can lead to injury.

“Recovery can often be overlooked when the excitement of training and racing is on your mind, but that excitement will lead to disappointment if all areas of recovery aren’t a top priority.” Says Josh Miller, a Boulder, CO athlete and winner of 2018 Sangre de Cristo 100k.

Watch for the following symptoms of overtraining or lack of recovery:

Continual soreness, tightness, or pain especially if it worsens.

Emotional irregularity

Higher volumes of training may indirectly be stressful, hormonally, on the body (which is why balancing being human is important… see below!) Our bodies respond to stress though the release of cortisol, adrenaline, and cytokine - an inflammatory hormone. [1] This stems from a hardwired life-preserving response that we fortunately rarely have to use in our modern lives- but just in case you see a mountain lion, our bodies maintain the ability to pump us full of adrenaline. Constantly generating and releasing these hormones is tough work on the body and can affect general mood and clarity of thinking.

Elevated morning heart rate

The average American wake-up heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute. A highly trained athlete may see beats per minute in the low 40s. Take your heart rate for 15 seconds and multiple by four to get your bpm as soon as your eyelids open, before making other movements. If this is not much lower than your mid-day resting heart rate, you may be lacking recovery, or have other reasons to consult a physician.

Poor sleep quality

Even though you may get 8 hours of sleep, if it is interrupted or full of tossing and turning, this could leave you feeling tired the next day. For fuller sleep, try to cut out screen time for the 30 minutes before bed, finish all your meals two hours before bed, and give alcohol at least an hour per drink to metabolize before going to bed. 

Low energy throughout the day

this could be a sign that your body is focusing its energy on repairing itself!

Lack of motivation, or not finding joy in other activities

Running should be a celebration of you, not a chore. Take time to do the other things that life calls you to do. More on this below.

Higher perceived effort in your everyday runs

If you are continually breaking down muscle from intense running, or not recovering, your body won’t be able to catch back up. This could lead to you feeling like you are pushing hard, but you aren’t moving at the pace you’d be used to at that effort.

Higher desire for caffeine and junk foods

These are a quick source of energy, and usually include some kinds of sugar. Our brains love that stuff! There are so few nutrients in fast-carb food though, so the energy doesn’t last and the intake isn’t doing much to heal the body.

Illness, sore throat, or a cold

Hard training lowers your immune system. If you are feeling sick, another workout will not help you get better! Taking time off may be the best thing you can do for your body.

Lack of libido

If you have pain while running, or you are having to alter your running form in order to compensate for pain/fear of pain, do not go for a run! Running should be a time of joy and peace. It should be an activity we enjoy and can enjoy for a lifetime, not just until our bodies burn out and fizzle from pushing them past the breaking point.

Ways to avoid running injury

Take a Day.

Allow yourself a day between hard runs to run easy or take time off. A hard run can be specified as anaerobic (hard breathing) efforts, hill repeats, tempo runs, a long run, or a race. Many training plans have two long runs back to back. The first should be the longer of the two, with the second one being shorter distance and easier terrain.

Stretching

Implement a stretching routine into your training. Keeping flexible can help you prevent muscle pulls, and also can help you be more agile and balanced on the trails.

Properly Fitted Shoes

Any local running store would be happy to help you determine what type of feet you have: Pronator, Supinator, or Neutral. There isn’t one correct type of feet (except for your own!) Feet also change over time. As you run more, your feet can get stronger. Too much support can also make your feet weaker. Your running store can help you determine what shoe is best for your situation, and any store worth its salt shouldn’t charge extra to evaluate your feet.

Training/Racing Recovery Tips

Be a human.

Yes. A human. In order to be athletes, we need to realize that we are people. Sometimes life throws curveballs; The boss needs you to stay late, the kids are inundated with homework. There are relationships to manage. The dogs need to go to the vet… whatever. Running should not be a chore. Running should be a time to be free… both in the wild, and free of worries. Allow yourself time to be a human, and running will allow you to be an athlete. A missed workout or a shortened one is not going to make or break your race.

Reduce your milage.

This includes taking a zero day. Sometimes just one or two days is enough for our mind and body to reset and put us back on a higher level. Rarely would these couple of off days have a negative effect. The rule of thumb is for each mile raced, a day should be taken at recovery effort. This doesn’t necessarily mean time off, but time not running into soreness or fatigue, and/or at a shortened distance. Slower runners and new runners may take longer to recover due to time spent on feet during the race and the cumulative muscle breakdown. Experienced runners may recover more quickly. Ultramarathons don’t always follow this same logic, but lengthy recovery time is still a strong recommendation. If you have questions, ask your coach, and listen to your body.

Eat a wholesome diet.

This includes alkaline foods. Alkalines are calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and manganese. Alkalines balance the PH in our bodies. Soreness is a result of acidosis- a concentration of acids in the body or a muscle. Alkalines can reduce soreness and aid in faster recovery time. [2]

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    • Almonds

    • Leafy greens (Spinach, Arugula, Collard, Kale)

    • Avocados

    • Beets

    • Carrots

    • Cauliflower

    • Chia Seeds

    • Cucumbers

    • Lentils

    • Eggplant

    • Onion

    • Peppers

    • Quinoa

    • Beans

    • Squashes and Pumpkin

A combination of the above can yield a healthy, delicious meal as well!

Epsom Bath

Epsom salt is known for its anti-inflammatory uses. A warm epsom bath allows your muscles to relax and release tension, but also allows your body to absorb some of the minerals that are found in epsom salt. These minerals help your body optimize electrolyte levels [1], which means quicker processing times for fluids and nutrients in your body so that you can reach recovery faster. Quicker processing time of fluids also means there are less toxins in your body, which can interfere with you feeling your best.

Positive Self Talk

The strongest voice you can listen to is your own. From Confucius, “Those who believe the can and those who believe they can’t are both usually right. Try these positive self-talk techniques to keep a positive mind while in recovery or after an injury.

To Wrap that Up…

Recovery is an art as much as training. Keep an eye out for these key indicators, and take the time to rest and focus on you before focusing on more training. Recovery will pay dividends for you in the long run, and you might even come back stronger!

Happy running (and recovery)! See you on the trails!

Sources:

[1] https://www.lorecentral.org/2018/07/overtraining-beware-of-rmonal-imbalances.html
[2] https://draxe.com/alkaline-diet/