Wednesday, June 6, 2012

on recovery

If you knew me a year ago, which most of you did, you'll remember that I hated rest days.  It's even documented all over the history of this blog: a controversy, a random friday fact, and a 3TT.  When I was just a runner, back in the early days before I had a blog so people could yell at me, I mostly ran every other day and did nothing on the days between.  Then I joined a gym, and went through PT a few times, and started lifting regularly to address the many bizarre imbalances in my body.  And to be honest, the amount of (stationary) biking and (treadmill) running I was doing was so little - roughly 30-40 minutes a day at a slow pace - that I didn't really ever need any recovery.


But then I bought a bike, and joyously realized that I had finally found a way to be active for longer than 40 minutes without breaking all my bones and tearing all my muscles.  The rides started to get longer, and harder, but I still never really considered the fact that I might need rest.  Then I decided to make a pretty serious commitment to half marathon AND half ironman training, and there weren't enough days in the week to do all the training I needed to do.  So I welcomed the idea of the "fake" rest day - for example, I'd get up early on Wednesday, ride for 2 hours, and then do nothing until Thursday evening.  24 hours have passed!  I have rested!


When I started working with a coach, I smugly told myself that I had been doing the right thing, because in triathlon training, there aren't a lot of complete rest days.  But what I found when I discovered that of course I was wrong, what I had been missing, was the idea of going easy.  Of doing a ride or run or swim purposely in the name of recovery.  The mistake I had been making, before being coached, is incredibly common.  I was going far too hard on "easy" days and not hard enough on "hard" days, which meant that I was putting out a generalized amount of effort across all days and all disciplines.  I wasn't letting my body recover from my effort before stacking more effort on top, and in general was just wearing myself down slowly over a matter of months.  I can remember so many rides last summer where I left the house with the intention of riding easy, but then got mad at the 15.3mph average pace showing up on my watch and would hammer hard to make sure it said 18 when I rolled back up the driveway.  That's not how to build long-term fitness, and it's not being honest about where I am and what my body needs.  That's letting ego climb into the driver's seat.  


The first time I heard from a coach, "you've been running far too hard all the time," I was indignant and cranky.  Why was working too hard a bad thing?  I've been working TOO hard?  What about all the couch-surfers eating Cheetos?  Or the "oh man someone make me go run today I don't wannaaaaaa" twitter whiners.  Go yell at them!  


But I listened, and I went ridiculously easy and I do mean, RIDICULOUS.  There were days that my recovery spins were well under 15mph.  I regularly run in the 11s on easy days (i.e. most days).  At some point, I ended up taking all that info off of my watch screen and ignoring it after uploading it, because I was crabby about how slow it was and I figured I was better off just not knowing.  During a warm-up, recovery, cooling down - I don't think there really is such a thing as "too easy."  It started to sink in, just a little, that I wasn't training for paces, I wasn't constantly digging my body into a hole just so I could run in the 8s.  I was training my engine, and my engine knows better than my sports watch what it needs.


The first few times through a training block with Sonja, I still had traces of the old rest-day-hater in me.  I didn't like taking an entire day off, or only riding/running/swimming for X amount of time on the weekend when everyone else was riding/running/swimming for 4X.  I wanted to do more, lots more, and I left cranky notes in Training Peaks after my training sessions.  But then the blocks started to get longer and harder, and suddenly I was really appreciating the "90 minute easy spin" that showed up the day after a hard run.  I'd drape my tired body across the trainer and watch 2 episodes of Grey's Anatomy, keeping one eye on my Garmin only to make sure my cadence stayed (sort of kind of) close to 90.  And then when I had hard intervals of some sort the following day, for the most part I'd be able to go pretty hard, I'd find a tiny spark, even nearing the end of a block where I had to run sub-3 minute pace or something just as ridiculous to get my HR up.  The magic of recovery.


The other magical piece of recovery has less to do with rest and more to do with the holistic view of training that's been thankfully rubbing off on me.  Rest isn't just staying out of the run shoes.  It also has a lot to do with all the things you put in your mouth (heh), and how much sleep you get, and the level of stress in your life, and how you treat your body outside of triathlon.  When Molly got sick in December, I spent a couple of days being really worried and sad....and then had an incredibly shitty run, one I called "the worst in my life to date."  It's not a coincidence.  I'm still learning about all of this, I'm just a baby here, but stress = cortisol = body all out of whack.  And when your body goes out of whack, you know it through your heart rate, right away.  So despite the fact that training through HR makes me run real slow, especially here in the swamp, I am trying appreciate the feedback that it gives me - feedback that I can't ignore and hammer over like I can a pair of tired legs.  


So I've changed my tune.  I've embraced the spaces between training.  When I checked my phone on Saturday afternoon after five hours of climbing a mountain, I was so grateful to see Monday marked as a rest day that I almost started crying right there in Spelunker's over my bacon cheeseburger.  Months of good and thoughtful training has allowed me to go pretty hard for three weeks, to load my body far into new territory, and now it's time to start unloading.  To let my engine heal stronger and faster so my fitness can put down deeper roots.  It's not just about ironman, it's not just about this race.  I expect it's going to take me quite a while to really build the strength and depth of my fitness.  It might take years, I might grow older faster than I can build it.  But in figuring out what does and doesn't matter, I can tell you this.  My body might be a little battered right now and my mind might be even worse, but by the time I'm done unloading in 2.5 weeks, I will be ready.  Not injured, not overtrained, not worn down by training mistakes, but instead in one piece.  Whole.  And that's worth so much more than a stack of pages in my training log covered in 19mph rides and 8 minute miles. 

30 comments:

  1. Spelunkers!! I love the Cavern Burger!! The perfect reward after a big ride or run in the mountains, no?

    This might be one of my favorite posts. From the moment I met you I knew there was greatness inside. It's so exciting to watch you growing by leaps and bounds in every way - strength, endurance, speed and mental game.

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    1. Couldn't agree more with this! Except for the whole having met you thing :)

      I can't wait to follow your IMCDA unfold. So effing inspiring.

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  2. I keep learning this lesson over, and over, and over again. Sometimes, it takes a hard effort, like IM training or like my Bay swim training last year, to force you to appreciate downtime. It's easy to fake rest days when you're training for a 5K. If you try to do it with a longer training effort, your muscles (and heart rate, and mind, and heart) will let you know, and quickly!

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  3. Love this post and the fact that your train by heart rate! So many people don't have a concept of recovery and listening to your body. Its refreshing to actually hear about how other people go through the same struggles during training cycles to keep train at the correct intensity. You are going to rock your IM!

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  4. I always appreciate your insightful posts like this one.

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  5. I think this is your best post yet- I'm a relatively new reader and I just want to read all your old posts right now. I really appreciate a beginner's perspective because sometimes it seems like all the other "beginners" out there are a race away from going pro. It's clear you've learned a TON, though, and I really look forward to absorbing some of that knowledge for myself. Keep it up!

    PS - You are also a hilarious and talented writer. So happy I found your blog!

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  6. Ironman is a magical day, and you will be well prepared for it. When you get half a mile into the bike it will feel so fresh you'll really want to crush it. But the secret to your first ironman bike leg is to start out stupid easy, then for the second half push your pace all the way up to Easy. Sounds like your recovery rides will have you well prepared for that. It also makes me wish I had done more recovery level efforts in my ironman training last year.

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  7. I love your coach's approach and philosophy and that it has worked so well for you. Totally in line with the Maeffetone approach, which I believe in.

    And look--you have your kind of weather for tapering, so life is good, right? ; )

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  8. Such a great post and something I feel like I could have written myself, except I'm not nearly as funny :) I've always struggled to let myself take easy days easy, rest, etc, but over the last few months I've really learned that is the only way I'm able to truly execute a hard workout.

    Hard work and consistency pay off, I'm so excited to stalk you at IMCDA :)

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  9. another great post katie. it's all about the big picture and not the stats that the garmin spit out. i am learning this too.

    so excited for your race :)

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  10. You can speak to the every-day athlete (e.g. most, if not all, of us here reading) so well. You know exactly WHY someone would scoff at some of these words, phrases and ideas, and you know just how to rein them in with the essential "I KNOW, BUT LISTEN!".

    I think anyone and everyone - athletes at any level - could benefit so much from working with a coach, and/or mentor, to really hammer these basics into our heads. The mistake isn't often intention, just surely out of lack of knowledge (which is true in so many realms of health).

    Thanks for sharing your intuition, transparency & intelligence gained through this entire process. It's so refreshing, and exciting. 2.5 weeks will fly! We can't wait for you to see what happens next...

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  11. I love reading your thoughts and journey. A lot of athletes struggle with dialing it down--it's like we are slacking, but with endurance training it's so important.

    I'm excited for you!! IM!!

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  12. I've just learned to think of it this way - you need to give the cake time to bake.

    You don't just throw a bunch of ingredients into a pan and call it a cake. You need to then stick it in the oven and wait while the process completes.

    Same for training. Each workout is like throwing ingredients together; they then need to cook and come together.

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  13. One Word: Truth

    I crushed my body training for 26.2 Vegas that it just sucked by the time I got there. Even with the coach I just didn't listen and ran harder and harder because I wanted to qualify for Boston. D-U-M-B.

    Thankfully guys like Kevin, Jeff and Jon had already done a training cycle for Ironman that when it was my turn to start I knew what 'Take It Easy' meant and my mind/body thanked me for it.

    You are going to love IMCdA and crush it because your mind is right where it needs to be which means that your body is ahead of that.

    Fired up for you my friend.

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  14. This is such an awesome post. When I didn't take my recovery days, I was miserable. Sure I could run every day, but it felt aweful, my body hated me and it just led to more injuries.

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  15. I love a good fake rest day!

    I'm still interested in getting a VO2 Max test done, not because I really want to train by heart rate all the time, but because I think it would be extremely useful for my rest days. I think I often end up running too fast on my recovery days. I have no good sense of what pace I should actually be doing.

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  16. SPOT ON! That is exactly it. Sonja has taught you well. ;)

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  17. this kind of reinforces why i should take a rest day today. :) i love to follow the journey of your training. it's great to see how much you can learn, about the process and your own limits, and how resting is okay, and how pushing hard doesn't always mean faster. thanks for passing along what you are learning to the rest of us!

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  18. If you're not breaking bones or tearing muscles you're not trying hard enough.

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  19. Can't do it. Can't embrace the rest days. I gotta do something even if it is at a super slow pace.

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  20. I LOVE my rest days, I embrace a day off or an easy swim or yoga...plus think of all things you get done non-triathlon related!! You are almost there!! so excited for you.

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  21. Great post - and so true. Ironman training teaches you the importance of recovery days (either rest or active recovery) like no other type of training I've done.

    I can really relate to this post (as usual!!). It took a while to learn but it's true: you need to go easy in order to go hard. And, you need to go slow in order to go fast.

    I cannot wait to follow you on your big day!! You are going to ROCK THIS RACE!!

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  22. I loved this post! congrats on learning to love rest days :) I know how difficult it can be and can relate.

    So excited for you as you make your way down the final stretch of IM training.

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  23. Very insightful post! It's great that you are embracing recovery. Those days are just as important as any other workout!

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  24. I'm glad I'm not your cranky "take a rest day" friend and you now have a coach and yourself to crank out on you! ;)

    They're so important. I know you'll tear up IM and then take some seriously important rest! :)

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  25. I love this post. One of the most helpful to me personally posts I've ever read. I may need to really take a hard look at how I've been training once this hammy is fully healed. Thanks so much for always shedding lots of light on training issues. Your research is really, truly appreciated.

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  26. Really great post! While I'm not working with a coach, I do try to be hyper aware of how my body is feeling and respecting the fact that I need those "easy" days to help me push more on the hard days, especially if I want to stay healthy!

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  27. Rest days are awesome! You have been so disciplined in your training and recovery, you are so ready for Ironman! I still think I need to learn how to go harder on the hard days and easier on the easy days but I am getting there.

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