The Importance of Recovery for Trail Runners

Written by Andrew Simmons for the Spring 2020 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Andrew is the Head Coach for Lifelong Endurance.

As a professional coach to both youth and adult trail runners, I find more often than not I have to teach athletes how to restrain themselves more than I have to push them. Athletes who are invested in their goals will push extremely hard to achieve their goals and when those athletes get sick or injured they tend to see their recovery as an obstacle to push through, rather than an opportunity to give themselves grace and rest.

Recovery is not losing
We love our sport and having to voluntarily give up a day of training can feel like someone stole our running shoes. The reality is that one single run or one single workout does not define your final result on the day of your “A Race,” or even your next race. Taking a day off because you’re tired, distracted or sick is plenty of reason to not lace up and do further damage or delay recovery. We know that we should take a day of recovery when we’re sick, tired, or starting to feel hurt but we don’t because we feel that we’re losing out on the potential benefit of that workout or run.

Max King at the Chuckanut 50K in Washington State.

There are other options
When you’re sick or starting to feel injured you can still move your body and sweat, it just might be in a weight room, on a bike, or in a pool. The change in stimulus is beneficial, and if you’re feeling injured, I can all but guarantee that taking a no-impact day or a string of no-impact days might put you on the other side of pain in short order. When we are sick it is good to raise your heart rate and get your respiration rate up but, be conscious of spreading your germs to others and don’t do anything so hard that you’re coughing for 30 minutes after your workout – that’s a step backwards! A few days of easy simply won’t set you back, your body will thank you for giving it time to recover.

Consider your end goals
When I’m speaking to a sick athlete who is clearly in no place to train, I always remind said athlete that a light, short run can be good, but hitting a workout hard will impact their body’s immunity and only lead to getting more sick or lengthening their time at a sub-optimal performance level. You will hear me say, “It’s better to take two days of rest than have two weeks of sub-optimal training,” and it’s true – pushing through the workout today will only make that cough and runny nose stick around even longer. The same applies to pain and injuries – it’s better to two days off and heal than to have two weeks of discomfort that could lead to two months of no training and rehab.

James Kaminski (Colorado Springs, CO) water bottle shower, photo credit: Andrew Walker.

That nagging voice
It’s not easy to tell that nagging voice in your head that’s screaming, “You’re stronger than that…go do your workout,” to just chill out and we’ll reassess in two days. This kind gesture will pay you back in a rested body. Recovery is as much a mindset as it is a practice in your training regimen. Give your mind and body the grace to catch up and you will be rewarded with better performances.

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