As most of you know, I am getting ready for my 1/2 Marathon (less than a month away) and I am always looking for great running information. You might remember, about a year ago I attended a Lululemon workshop which was lead by Brett Cohen, whom was VERY insightful and I even posted one of his earlier articles on my blog…and here I am doing it again…Enjoy!
Recovery and Regeneration: A Runner’s Secret Weapon-By Brett Cohen
Fall in the Northeast is the time for half and whole marathons: The Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on September 18th, Hamptons Half on September 24th, Grete’s Great Gallop on October 1, Chicago Marathon on October 9th, and the grandaddy of them all-The ING New York City Marathon on November 6th, 2011.
A typical training program for events like these can be 12-16 weeks in length and while all training programs advise you how often to run (frequency), how far to run (distance), and how fast to run (pace), most do not tell you what you should be doing when you’re not running in order to recover from your hard training. In other words, what you should be doing to accelerate the repair of your muscles and other soft tissues from all that running!
The Mighty Marathon
The modern marathon is a phenomenon even beyond the wildest dreams of the father of the modern marathon, Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon. The NYC Marathon began in 1970 with 55 finishers. The 2010 version of the same race had 45,103 finishers!
The Running USA organization estimated that a total of 507,000 runners finished a marathon in 2010 compared to 173,000 in 1980. If only the economy could grow at that pace!
The Injured Runner
While these numbers are great news for running shoe and clothing companies and the municipalities that sponsor them, they have also become a major source of income for orthopedic surgeons and physical therapist trying to bandage up those who venture to participate is these types of endurance events without being truly “Ready to Run”.
A Runner’s World.com poll revealed that 66% runner’s suffered from training related injures. Research has shown that 6 out of every 10 females that begin a distance training program will eventually become injured! Those are high percentages! I wish I had those odds at the casinos -- I would take up gambling....
Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, said in a podcast, “Talk to a runner, I guarantee that within 30 seconds the conversation will turns to injury.”
So why are so many runners getting injured? First, most begin a training program without having the physical pre-requisites needed to run safely, second, they have muscles imbalances that can lead to injury due to the repetitive nature of endurance sports and third: most are unaware of the importance of recovery & regeneration. The things they can and should be doing on the days they are not running that helps the body rebound from all the training they do.
Recovery & Regeneration
So what is recovery and regeneration anyway? Well, basically it’s the repair of muscles and other soft tissue from training.
As runners we tend to measure how effectively we’ve trained by how sore we are a day or two after a race or hard workout. But what runner’s often don’t realize is that their body improves and adapts to the stress of those workouts only with sufficient rest and recovery. Without sufficient rest and recovery your body will not reap the benefits of all your hard training.
Typically runners will do one of two things after a race or workout: 1) either put themselves through another workout, or 2) nothing at all. So in order to recovery effectively we must first change our mindset (a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determines one’s behavior, outlook and mental attitude).
When you want to recover from the stresses of life and work you go on vacation -- a time to get away, to rejuvenate, regenerate. This takes planning. “When will you go, where will you go, how long will you go for?”
Think of the recovery & regeneration process the same way. Recovery & Regeneration is what you are doing when you’re not running and it takes planning.
Who Needs Sleep?
In a song title “Who Needs Sleep?” made famous by the musical group The Barenaked Ladies, the answer is: YOU DO!
Most of us are walking around sleep deprived as it is, but sufficient sleep is even more essential for those training for endurance events. Intense training and lack of sleep don’t make good training partners. Sleep is the most important factor in the recovery process. It’s when you’re sleeping that your body works to repair muscle stress that had occurred during exercise.
How much do we need? Well, individual needs vary but most would agree that intense training requires between 7 - 9 hours per night. Deena Kastor, American long-distanc e runner holding records in half and marathon distances gets as much as 12 hour/night during training.
But it’s not just how much sleep but when you sleep that’s important. Our physiology is still the same as our ancient ancestors that lived by the natural rhythms of the sun, moon and seasons. But today we have artificial light available to us 24/7. Light stimulates the release of cortisol, an awakening hormone, that can disrupt our ability to fall asleep on time. The body does its physical repair from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. so the later you go to sleep the less time your body has for tissue repair which eventually will lead to decreased performance, tissue breakdown, and injury!
Aside from sufficient sleep the next most important thing a runner can do to facilitate the recovery of muscles and other soft tissue is self-myofascial release. SMR is self-directed massage of the bodies soft tissues (myo = muscle) and fascia.
Fascia is comprised of mostly water and two kinds of protein, collagen and elastin. Fascial tissue permeates the entire body and envelops all the structures of the body. It is the unifying factor of the body’s movement system, which means that practically speaking muscle and fascia are one.
According to fascial expert Thomas Myers,“muscles are the engine of movement, fascia is the medium of movement.” Fascia is what transfers force throughout the body. So when we are training our muscles we are training our fascia as well.
Fascia accumulates tension from overuse which ultimately leads to decreased flexibility and mobility in the body. The accumulated tension of exercise creates what manual therapists:(Massage therapists, Active-Release therapists and Rolfers) refer to as “adhesions,” “knots,” or “trigger points”. But most of us don’t have manual therapists available to us on a whim so we must rely on SMR both before and after exercise to treat this most important tissue.
SMR release is a great barometer of the quality of your muscles and connective tissue. The more uncomfortable the process of rolling is, the more that tissue needs to be kneaded.
Recovery is the limiting factor in performance, especially for endurance athletes. In order to survive the training (not just the event), runners need to become more aware of what they can and should be doing on non-training days. Regeneration is a then a recognition that we need to plan ways to recover, mentally and physically. Recovery can be passive; in that we exert no effort, e.g. sleep or active; meaning we are participants in the process, e.g. self-myofascial release. As athletes we need to be aware that when train our muscles we are also training our fascia. So we must become more conscious about how to keep it healthy and resilient. The soft tissues of the body must be worked regularly to maintain healthy, pain-free movement. Regeneration through tissue manipulation is crucial for the body to experience the gains made through training.
Brett’s Bottom Line:
The better and more rapidly you recover, the more quickly your body adapts to the stress of exercise and the sooner you can do another quality workout.
About the Author
Brett Cohen is a sports perfo rmance coach, author, lecturer, seven time marathoner and creator of “Ready to Run”, a comprehensive conditioning program specifically designed for runners and endurance athletes.