So you've just run an ultra now what...?
The first rule of recovery is you do not talk about recovery! Of course that’s not true, but you would be forgiven for thinking that it was. Especially when you’re still hobbling around post-ultra, whilst everyone else is posting runfies on Instagram in their event shirts and Strava is a burst with activities from people you can only assume have given their Suunto/Garmin to their dog/child/non-ultra-buggered spouse to clock up some impressive looking mileage.
The real first rule of recovery is listen to your body and your mind and not your FOMO! Last year after my first ultra I did a little of both. Having run a really tough 6FT, I actually felt surprisingly OK come the following weekend. So I went about business as usual, despite everything I’d read about recovery I seemed to think it did not apply and off I went for a light 10k run at Achilles training followed by 90 minutes of football complete with slide tackles. Then came the body breakdown. So what lead me to think I was so awesome I should be doing that crazy stuff one week after 6FT? Well first, like I said, the body felt OK after a week’s rest and I was eager to run. Secondly, I knew a number of strong runners who were backing up 6FT with Mount Solitary, UTA or numerous road marathons! So I assumed if they can do it then so can I. Yep I listened to the FOMO and went against my better judgement and broke myself.
This year it’s a similar story, in the week that has passed since UTA there’s been oodles of runfies and talk of big training runs and racing in the coming weeks. Me, myself and I have been quite fortunate – I got sick! I’m on day 8 of a nasty cold which saw me couch-ridden for 3 days following the race and I’m still coughing up all sorts of crap I shouldn’t be. My energy levels are super low and a cold snap just rolled in (a Sydney cold snap so you know like 7 degrees!). The combination has seen me pretty happy to lie in rather than lace up and I’ve been focussed on putting as much good food into my system as possible and sleeping as best I can between coughing fits.
Various resources (much more informed than me) recommend 1 week for every 10-15k of racing – so for UTA50 that’s around 4-5 weeks of recovery before getting seriously into training again. That’s what I’m aiming for. In an ideal world I would go for a couple of short recovery jogs this week and would have been doing a couple of yoga sessions. However at the moment any downward dog would require some serious mopping up of phlegm from the floor beneath me so I’m not going to put myself or anyone else through that. Instead I’m focussing on easy recovery walks with my Mrs (some perfect QT after the rigorous training schedule), rolling out my sore spots, having Epsom salt baths, massage and physio to address some of the super tight areas and enjoying a hell of a lot of Netflix action from the comforts of my couch!
Whilst this annoying cold has certainly killed my post UTA buzz (and my return to drinking after a 3 month hiatus pre-race! Yep that’s how you know I’m really sick, I actually tipped half a bottle of undrunk wine down the sink on my birthday no less!!!) it has helped me realise just how much we put our bodies through when doing an ultra. I annihilated my body and my immune system and it’s important to let it heal. Regardless of whether you got sick or not, your body just went through a heck of a lot of trauma whether you were out for 5 hours or 12 hours. You need to heal and rest and recover.
The only trouble with the recovery is finding another outlet for your energies. If like me you run to release your crazy or to suck in those mind bending endorphins, it’s really hard to recover and stay mentally ok. The best advice I can give is – go hug a sick person, it’ll give you a week of forced recovery. Nah don’t do that, it sucks! But do find some other way to get your fix, be it a spin class (that shit is crazy tough – you can’t see straight never mind think straight!), meditation or yoga, taking the dog for a walk, or meeting up with other suffering runners for a post-ultra walk and debrief. Replace your morning or afternoon run with some more relaxed fresh air time. Fill your lungs and remind yourself recovery is necessary but it’s not forever! Soon you’ll be back in the thick of it and wishing for that time you could lie in and not check Strava every hour to ensure your crown remains intact after that latest speed session.