Recognising Real Recovery

Problems with training are easy to spot, you miss sessions or performance isn’t what you expect. Athletes are great at recognising when training isn’t where they think it should be. I’ve invested enough mental energy into the short comings of my workouts lately. What’s often overlooked is the impact the rest of our life has and how we’re recovering. Chances are poor performance or motivation stems from other factors not the content of the sessions.

Discussions on recovery often focus on how quickly after a workout you should eat, what to consume or how much compression gear should be worn. Quick and easy solutions that will have us training again in no time. There’s so much emphasis on recovery drinks, protein shakes and gimmicks to get ourselves back into shape. I’m not disputing their abilities these things may help, but we’ve all read how chocolate milk is as good as a recovery shake. Most of us can gain all the recovery benefits we need from real foods, the first thing I grab after a workout is fruit.

It’s taken more work than expected to rebuild my training routine. Only in the last fortnight have I recognised the role inadequate recovery played. Not only was I out of the habit of training, but also the habit of recovering. I’d built a program for the training I’d do, but not made plans or allowances for the rest required. Instead I’d perform the relatively light training load then still stay up late into the night. Going to bed with sore eyes is a sure sign of mental and physical fatigue, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I didn’t feel up to training the following day.

You can eat the exact amount of carbs and protein needed after a session, pull on compression socks and ensure your diet is sound, but without adequate sleep it’s a losing battle. Recovery has to be considered as a whole, before worrying about specifics you need to have an overall strategy. Product X may speed up recovery, but it’s a detail to consider once everything is in place. How well you can fit recovery into your life will affect how well you can train.

Inadequate sleep was clearly my biggest issue. I’ve never been a heavy sleeper, somehow as a student I lived on little more than five hours (I didn’t train then), as an athlete I suffer on anything less than seven. Cold, dark mornings make it harder to get up, but so does going to bed six hours before your alarm goes off. Few sessions should take longer than a day to recover from, but I’d wake still fatigued then add a little more. The solution was simple, go to bed earlier, if I want to train I need to sleep.

Diet was less significant, I’d already taken steps to eliminate empty calories before returning to structured training. I don’t often use energy bars or recovery drinks relying on whole foods and ensuring a good proportion of fruit and vegetables daily. I let myself down managing the quantities around training, tending to eat too much on some easier days and not quite enough on bigger days. I want a net loss of weight, but not at the expense of energy levels in the day. Overall I’d say I allowed myself to become too catabolic at a point when the body was readapting to training.

Injury management has been of particular concern to me. I’m over the worst of the calf issue that plagued the last season, but have to be cautious. Despite appreciating this need for care at times I was reckless, the remnants of my problem leave little margin for error and daily running requires management of intensity. I ran too fast on occasion and opted to run in icy conditions, normally both would be fine, in the circumstances the subsequent impact on running was hard. I’ve spent the last week exclusively using treadmills to control pace and give me a comfortable, springy platform. Boring, but enabling me to build the consistency I want to achieve.

The positive side of this is it brought home the importance of maintenance work outside the training. Massage and the use of a Trigger Point roller have become a routine part of my schedule, both make heavy contributions to keeping me running. I’m aware there’s inconclusive evidence of benefits from stretching or massage, but these treatments make my legs feel better. Perhaps they’ve done nothing to prevent injury, but I’d not have had the confidence for twenty-five days of running without them.

It took a while to recognise my shortcomings, a long while in some cases, but I’m training smarter. I’m not adjusting the details of my sessions, but sensibly using the time between them to ensure I recover well. This is so often overlooked in our plans simply because it doesn’t get logged, the fact is success depends on it. We focus on what we can do in training and not enough on what can be done between training.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.