Recovering from a 100 mile run/ Ultramarathon recovery
10 months, 1 week ago (Sunday 14:29, Jul 08, 2012) by JamesElson
This is a subject I've got a little experience with and one that I don't have an answer to because - as the old adage goes - everybody is different. However, I think I've got to grips with how long it takes me to get over a 100 and how different aspects of performance during a 100 mile run itself dramatically effect your recovery time.
I ended up coming around to this subject now because until the middle of April this year, I had intended to move smoothly from the Highland Fling (53 mile trail race) to the Three Forts Marathon (27 mile trail race) to Comrades (56 mile road race) across a 6 week period..... And then Neil Bryant mentioned he was going to try to run the whole of the SDW in one go right in the middle of the three, so I decided to join him.
It was easy to fit it in to the calender because I hadn't booked any other races that weekend, but it didn't really make 'sense' in that it would leave me pretty depleted and with only 3 weeks to go until Comrades - a race I have wanted to do reasonably well at for some time.
That being said, I decided that after weighing up the pro's and cons, the reasons for giving it a go were overwhelming and I trusted that I could manage myself to recover within that time frame. 3 weeks should be enough.... shouldn't it?
I knew it would be a hard run, 100 mile runs usually are pretty hard, but I knew also we weren't going to be going 'full bore' and so I could manage the effort better and hopefully get back to full strength pretty quickly.
Neil had Hardmoors, a 110 miler, the same weekend as Comrades so he was going to need to recover just as much as I did and his attitude was '3 weeks is plenty'..... but Neil is a machine.
What I mean by that is that there are people out there, some in the blogosphere and some everyday folk, who are able to perform well week in week out no matter how hard a run they've put in the preceding weekend. I think there's a bit of an issue with ultrarunners of all abilities and at all stages of their careers, but particularly with those just coming in to the sport, to think that it's normal to go out and run 120 miles + every week and particularly to race hard over 50/ 100 miles, and well, every other weekend. The reality is for the majority of us that just isn't possible. What is possible is that as you get further in to your ultra running life and your body learns how to handle the miles better, and therefore the recovery, you can race a little more than you used to. Stuart Mills is a big advocate of this - his weekly mileage isn't high and he races sometimes often and very hard. However, he has been running hard for 20 plus years. You simply can't susbtitute anything for that level of experience. Running ultras for a couple of years with no real running background before that and trying to race ultras every weekend or even every fortnight, is going to land you on the injury scrap heap before long unless you are incredibly strong, or lucky.
The over-riding deal for me personally is that I can recover quickly and bounce back on to the next race right after a hard ultra if:
1. I get lots of sleep and eat well giving my body the maximum chance of recovering fast.
2. Use exercise sensibly to promote active recovery
3. Get sports massages to flush out my legs and again promote recovery the right period of time after a long run: for me this is between 48 and 72 hours after a 100 mile effort, when the masseuse touches my legs I would prefer not having to wince in pain until he or she gets pretty forceful - otherwise it's a complete waste of time because they can't do their job.
4. Have kept my nutrition, hydration, salt levels and feet well cared for and in balance throughout my race (or non-race) effort.
and here's the rub
5. I have a good few years of solid running in my legs. By that I mean consistent monthly/ annual mileage in the reasonably high numbers. Your body, your muscles, your tendons and ligaments and to an extent your mind, all get stronger, the longer you run.
There are some things to be wary of. For me, the biggest issue is depletion of fat reserves by poor nutrition during the latter part of a 100 mile run. Inevitably on most occasions, my stomach decides it doesn't really want any more stuff liberally chucked in to it and so with a case of 'I'm almost there just keep moving' with mind over matter, during the last 20 miles I usually eat right in to reserves I don't really have in the first place. So my body can't recover as fast and I notice things like my poor bone density from a year or so of bad diet and energy balance in 2010 - 11 start to play up (shin pain which can lead to stress reactions/ fractures). Also endocrine system depletion which is only really now being talked openly about.
This post is in no way designed to be scientifically accurate or a reference point for runners or readers, just my thoughts on why recovery can take longer and what I should do to recover well from a 100 miler and be raring to go again in a short space of time.
I got through my 100 mile run with Neil just fine. I went on to Comrades 3 weeks later and ran a reasonably quick race but didn't feel my best at any point. Whilst I felt fine mentally and was excited to run again, there was a deeper physical fatigue that didn't really expose itself until I started to run hard in South Africa. I think that's one of the biggest things I've learned this year, that I can't always tell when that deep fatigue is in there or when it has worked it's way out. In fact I don't think I'm aware of it sometimes until deep in to a race that comes a short time after the preceding effort.
So the cumulative deep fatigue that I built up through late April to early June led to my crash at the West Highland Way Race. It wasn't unexpected and my disappointment wasn't great as a result. It could have gone either way and unfortunately there was just nothing left in the tank so soon after returning from South Africa and from 2 months of hard efforts. It'll be there again for me in the future of course.
Now we have the SDW100 done and dusted, it's back to a brief period of more intense training for me on route to the next race, UTMB. My aim is to pack in some big miles now I've had 2 weeks to rest well from a shorter than planned West Highland Way effort. Kicking back in to gear this week felt good, even though the multiple bouts of nettle rash and sodden feet every day didn't.
All that remains is to find some slightly bigger hills to climb.....
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