Friday, May 4, 2012

Our Lips Are Sealed: 50-Mile Race Recovery

The Go-Go's. I'm sorry. Or you're welcome. Maybe a little of each.

I could have written this a week ago and it may have been more entertaining for sheer train wreck value; as it is, it'll probably make more sense today.

My experience two weeks ago was pretty incredible now that I've had time to process all that went on. I'm incredibly thankful for all the pre-race and race day support that helped me to finish the Desert R.A.T.S. 50-miler. While none of the experienced ultra runners I looked to for advice and opinions kept recovery experiences a total secret, it was just not something that came up much. When it did, it was because I asked, and not stuff that was volunteered readily. After the fact, though, it's been good to know that my experience has not been unique, and is nothing which should make me worry. Some of the facts of life of recovery are pretty straightforward and not surprising. Other experiences have been a bit of a surprise. So, without further ado-here are my rules of 50-mile race recovery.


No, it is not unusual to feel a bit tired and a little bit out-of-sorts for a short time after a good race effort. After longer trail races, like the Imogene Pass Run, or the RedHot 33K and 55K races, I remember that my body was pretty tired, and just wanted rest for a few days. I don't remember, however, any of these races wreaking havoc on my thought processes as the one I ran two weeks ago did for a short time. This was true immediately following the race, when I was so spent that forming basic sentences was a challenge. I'm usually pretty gabby after a race, but simply could not muster more than a few words this time.

 I also did not anticipate that my memory-or lack thereof-was not to be trusted.  I found myself misplacing items on a daily basis in the week following the race. I would repeat conversations with friends, and have no recollection of the original conversation. As one friend pointed out reluctantly but with a laugh-while he was indeed at the finish of my race, he was NOT there at the midpoint even though I have a distinct recollection of his presence. I hallucinated a friend. This was a first. I had another regular training partner tell me a story about repeatedly passing around his belt buckle from a 100-mile race at the office, not realizing he'd already passed it around once. I was supposed to work on some online continuing education in the week post-race as well. This was simply NOT going to happen. My attention span for simple tasks was about the same as that of a house fly.


Along with logging the miles, and good nutrition, sleep and getting adequate rest is probably the critical third piece of the puzzle when it comes to good running and racing. Sleep is when the body repairs itself, and without adequate sleep, it's not possible to sustain good running long-term. With longer road races and trail races, I've experienced that need after races to sleep more. I thought I knew what was coming this time around, especially with the race day heat. I figured I'd be tired for a week after, but would be able to get through days just fine with added sleep time at night.

What I did not anticipate was needing a nap by 9am every day. I was hydrating and eating well, and having my typical morning coffee. I figured that I would be in that blissed-out, and kinda fatigued zone. It was a surprise that I could barely keep my eyes open by mid-morning. As in-I wanted some serious, deep sleep. My days were spent going through the motions, eagerly anticipating that reasonable evening hour when sleep would be okay and acceptable. Though I had no plans to run early in the morning in the week following the race, there's no way I could have roused myself from bed at 5am if I'd wanted to do so. It felt like I'd reverted to the sleep patterns of an infant; sleep a long time at night, get up for two hours, want a nap that I couldn't take, get to midday, want another nap I couldn't take, then off to bed early. Almost two weeks after the race, I'm feeling much more back to normal, but it was weird for a bit. I don't know how much of this could be attributed to my first-timerness, or the heat, which was unusual even in our high desert, on race day. All I know is that sleep was a valued commodity in the seven days post-race, and that I sought it out whenever possible.


Kiss it good-bye. This was probably the biggest secret of all. Nobody mentioned this to me ahead of time, and had I known, it wouldn't have changed my desire to run 50-miles. This was the big spring race, and something way out of my comfort zone. Getting to the finish was awesome. I did not have a clue, though, that running a slow, steady race for 12 hours would sap all relative speed from my body. It's not like I was running my 5K or 10K pace, or even marathon pace at the Desert R.A.T.S.  

This came up when I showed up at track a few days after the race with no expectations to do the full workout at my top speed. I was just there for the regular routine and habit of speed group, and knew I likely would not do the full workout, and that my pace would be slower than usual.

What I did not expect was beginning the first 400 meter interval, feeling good for about 100 meters, and then immediately decelerating involuntarily. The experienced ultra runners at that night's workout told me that this was normal, and that my typical speed would likely be gone for at least a month, and maybe longer, depending how my recovery went. On one hand, this was frustrating that I couldn't just work hard like usual and magically run my very best at short distances. On the other hand, it was a relief, and gave me permission to be patient and run easy.


Yes, I expected to be extra special hungry in the week after the race. The unexpected part was that I'd have long periods of time when I DIDN'T feel hungry-almost like a switch had been shut off-but when I became hungry, look out. I couldn't get food in the system fast enough. There'd be almost no warning, either. I had to make an effort to keep putting food in my face in small amounts on a regular basis, because if I went by my appetite alone...trouble. And, yes...I did splurge and eat some crap I wouldn't normally, but made a point to balance it out with even more of the good stuff, with lots of deep leafy greens, and fruit.


It will be lacking its usual kick post-race. This is one thing that didn't surprise me, and thus I've been pretty pro-active with how my body has reacted. There was some crud going around town pre-race, and I did feel a little scratchy in the throat the day before the race. A few days later, I had a full-blown sinus infection (I tend to get a few of these a year, but not much else, illness-wise), and was sicker than I'd been in ages. I got into the doctor once I could see that the sinuses were getting worse, and continued to stay on top of rest, hydration, and nutrition. Things are beginning to feel a bit more back-to-normal now.


I've gotten a mixed bag of recommendations based on the experiences of other ultra runners as far as how much to run, and how soon I can expect to resume racing again.What I've been learning is that after the initial "walking dead" experience in the first week post-race, there are no hard and fast rules if nothing in the body hurts, and it's just a general feeling of natural fatigue in the body from the effort. I completed runs several days in a row on flat surfaces at an easy pace that lasted no more than 20-30 minutes.My legs frequently felt like jello to start, but more often than not, if I dialed into an easy pace, I'd feel better by the end. I also did some regular hilly hikes, which further aided recovery without causing strain.

This week, I did my first hilly trail run, and while it was very slow, I was able to get through 45 minutes. The climb was hard, and I could feel that I was a bit tense and not freely flowing to start the downhill. Just going through the motions felt good in the end, though. It allowed me to loosen up, and it felt like some of the tight joints and muscles were able to work themselves out a bit. I missed weekly track in this second week post-race due to family commitments, but managed my first road run today with bursts of speed thrown in at the end. I am sure it was slower than normal, but it didn't feel miserable. The run itself lasted about an hour, which was above and beyond what I thought I could do today. It's going to take more time to be fully recovered, but this morning's run was encouraging. 

The next few weeks bring uncharted territory. I'm reverse-tapering up to the Thelma & Louise Half Marathon in eight days. It's a brand-new race, and my first time racing with women only. Two weeks later, I'll be running the Bolder Boulder 10K for the first time since 2010. My track record at this race has been mediocre; while it's not the fast downhill course one finds at the Winter Sun in Moab, I've just never had a "knock one out of the park" experience in Boulder. The plan is to continue the gradual but continuous re-introduction of time on feet, and general fast running. If all goes well, I might be able to capitalize on good endurance coupled with a strategic reverse taper for shorter, faster races. Until then, I will continue this exercise in patience, knocking out the slower miles and finding satisfaction in being able to run for simple enjoyment in the meantime. 


shreddlyphredd said...

good fun in-depth insightful analysis of, if not everything, a lot of what real long distance entails. and i liked the "brains" photo -- a real hook to reel one in ...

Kymberly said...

Thanks for the blog Tired Mama! I just ran my first 50 miler (The Tahoe Rim Trail) on July 21st and I am still continually surprised at how generally "fatigued" my body is. I'm not sore, just tired. I also experienced the periods of not being hungry and then being famished. It's very unusual. I'll be running another 50 miler next year but not at altitude, which I hope will make a difference in my race time and recovery. Best of luck to you in your upcoming races! Blogging about your experience was very helpful to me - thank you!
Happy Trails!
- Kymberly