As you’re preparing for the Merge 25K—or any spring race or event, or heck, even just life—you need to focus on your recovery just as hard as you focus on training. Here’s my advice, cross-posted from the Merge Records blog. If you register to run the sure-to-be-fantastic Merge 25K from Chapel Hill to Durham on March 22, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a five-class pass good at both Durham Yoga and at Carrboro Yoga. Register here! And see below for a lovely recovery playlist Merge put together.
The key to successful training is finding the right balance between being on and being off—between stress and rest. You grow stronger in adaptive response to well-applied stress, like running progressively faster or longer workouts. But this adaptation happens in the downtime, in the rest between workouts. Thus recovery is like the space between the notes in music: without it, there’s no music at all. Recovery is so important, I wrote a whole book on the topic, The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery. Here are the most critical recovery tools, and they are all free or cheap!
Sleep. Sleep is when the most major improvements to your fitness happen, and if you aren’t getting enough, you’re missing out on the biggest opportunity to get faster, stronger, and fitter. If you are running 30 miles a week in training, aim to get at least 30 extra minutes of sleep every night, in addition to your regular eight to nine hours. You are getting eight to nine hours, right?
Eat. You have to fuel well, or your engine will have no power. Pay attention to eating a varied, healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and liquids, and sufficient protein, especially if you don’t eat meat. Be sure you are adequately hydrated, as well—your urine should be pale yellow, not dark.
Be smooth. Keep your muscles fluid and supple by moving your body in various directions. This is especially important if you sit at a desk all day. Get up and move, stretch however feels good, do light yoga, dance. If you enjoy self-massage, make a few passes over your hips and thighs with a foam roller. Better yet, spring for regular massage to keep your body in good working order.
And here’s a yoga pose to jumpstart your recovery: Legs up the Wall. Try it after you’re clean and dry, or at the end of a long day. Getting into the pose is the hardest part of it. You need a little bit of wall space or a closed and locked door. If you have a pillow or yoga block handy, have it nearby. Sit with one hip against the baseboard or the bottom of the door. Swivel your legs up the wall, so that your heels rest against it and your rear end is as close to the wall as it will comfortably go. (If your hamstrings are tight, allow some space between your bottom and the wall.) If you like, lift your hips and slide your pillow or yoga block horizontally under the back of the pelvis, to elevate it even more.
Relax here. You should feel the weight of the legs helping the back settle toward the floor, and you may feel a recirculation of any swelling that accumulated in your lower legs during your run. Take your arms to a position that feels comfortable: on the belly to observe the breath, or off to the sides in an inverted V, T, Y, or A (think “YMCA” dance) position. This passive stretch of the chest helps undo some of the tightening that happens as your run goes on, and as you sit with your hands on a keyboard or steering wheel.
Coach and yoga teacher Sage Rountree, co-owner of the Carrboro and Durham Yoga Companies, is author of several books on yoga for athletes and mindful racing. Find her and watch free online videos on yoga at sagerountree.com.