17 May 2013

Recovery FAIL

“Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're stupid.” - John Wayne

I realized in the past 48 hours that I have sabotaged any chances of a speedy recovery from last week's inaugural 50 miler. When I think about the wisdom I've gleaned from the experts on the importance of recovery, the following would have constituted my recovery plan, had I formulated one:

1. Ingest protein and carbs within 30 min of finishing 
2. Ingest more protein and carbs within 2 hours of finishing
3. Get a good night's sleep (8+ hours)
4. Drink water 
5. Once the soreness and fatigue ends, go out for an easy run of less than an hour. Plan next workout based on body's feedback and recovery of previous run. Rest a few more days if needed.

Since I didn't have a recovery plan, this is what I did instead:  

1. Drank a half a beer within 30 min of finishing
2. Ate a Double Whopper and drank a large sweet tea 3 hours after the beer
3. Got almost 7 hours of sleep, in two stages
4. Drank a diet Dr. Pepper
5. After four days off and feeling good, went out for an easy run. Felt great until I hit mile 9 (!) and suddenly, I had the all-over soreness that I had at mile 40, last Saturday. What the...???  Since I was running a loop and had a home inspection to attend, was forced to run -- not walk -- the final 4 miles back to my car.

I let the house-buying craziness take too much of my attention away from Quad Rock and now I'm paying the price. Clearly, I'm underestimating the damage being done to my body during these ultras. Also, now that I'm accustomed to doing 20 mile training runs, I'm not respecting the half-marathon distance as being too much. Gah!


My mistakes started before I even crossed the finish line. I forgot to pack a recovery drink in my bag to drink right after finishing, since I can't eat anything solid for a couple of hours anyway. Then, I needed to make sure I followed it up with a protein and carb meal within the remaining 2 hour window.

The importance of eating carbs and protein within 30 min of completing a hard run and again about 90 min later is to replenish glycogen stores and begin the process of rebuilding muscle tissue. Since I can't eat anything right after a race, I rely on a preformulated drink to get me started. I then follow it up with real food to stay within the two hour window. Totally dropped the ball last Saturday.


Another mistake was not planning to sleep soon after in order to get a full 8 hours in. My original plan was to drive two hours home, but it became clear that I was too fatigued to stay focused on the road. I ended up grabbing a hotel room on the north side of Denver around 10:30 pm and didn't have the luxury of sleeping in. Now I know that after a 40-50 miler, that I need to plan to stay over another night or have someone else drive.

I was aware of the importance of sleep, but didn't realize just how critical it is to recovery. I simply thought that not running or stressing my legs constituted "rest" and allowed for sufficient muscle repair. Not so. When you sleep, particularly when you are in deep sleep, your pituitary gland releases a shot of growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Thus the importance of getting at 8+ hours and napping whenever possible is necessary. I usually get around 7 hours a night, which is not bad but not enough when a speedy recovery is critical.


The last big mistake I made was attempting to run too many miles, too soon. I was fooled into thinking that if I felt great, I must be recovered. I should have planned to do no more than 45-60 minutes so that I felt good when I finished. Instead, I locked myself into a looped course and didn't realize I was over-running until I was past the half-way point. As a result, my legs had that post-race, all-over achiness for the rest of Wednesday and most of Thursday. No Friday long run this week. With more rest, I hope to resume training next Friday. With Bighorn coming up in 4 weeks, there won't be much hard training before the taper begins; best to rest up and make sure everything is working optimally by then.


Those of you who are experienced 50 milers who read my blog, I welcome your thoughts as I continue to learn how to train, run and recover from this distance. Steve, MeghanJen and Jeremy, I know you have something to say. Anyone else?

On a happier note, I had a fabulous Mother's Day out at the park with the kidlets and sushi dinner with the hubs. Life is good.
Happy Trails,



  1. Shelby, looks like you no longer need comments from me, all the right things are above! As I mentioned in a note to you, consider HR training....find your max and train at below 70% for 90% of your running. It will teach your body to better utilize fat as fuel and make everything better. Good job, keep learning!

  2. You included what would have been my main suggestion - something like Recoverite right after then high-protein in the next meal. The first trigger drink should be high-glycemic, 3carbs/1protein, about 200 cals for you.

    If you have to drive aways, stop and walk a few minutes a few times.

    After a really good trashing like a 50 or 100, I find that my legs are in recovery-deficit for several days. That being the case, I do a 2-miler each day, easy, just to get the cortisol flowing, then do the *full* recovery protocol just as if I had just finished the 50 itself. My (unproven) theory is that I will trigger the same insulin spike and fast-recovery window that I got from the trigger drink right after the run. 2-3 days of this for me. If not ready to run right away, walk 20 mins.

  3. Shelby,

    It looks like you have a great perspective of what you did and didn't do to facilitate your recovery. Great self-analysis!

    Honestly, when you posted something on Facebook or Twitter about going out for a 13-miler a couple days after your first, true 50, I went palm-to-head and thought, "Why did she feel the need to do that? She should be soaking in all the fitness she's gained from her weekend outing." But, it sounds like you were already down a just-okay recovery path to start with, and that was the last-straw reminder that you weren't recovered.

    Once you get used to running ultra distances, I think you will find that you can "get away with" not doing every part of recovery to the tee, and you can still recover swiftly. For instance, I often slack on the immediate recovery drink for an "easy 20-miler" because I know I will feel fine if I eat a meal within an hour or so. But for ultra-distance training runs or a hard, speed workout, I'm pumping it straight away because I know from experience that my body will react poorly without it. The same can be said for all of the the recovery variables.

    And, finally, sometimes you'll think that you've done nothing to recover and you'll wake up the next morning feeling awesome, or you'll wake up hurting and wonder, "I did everything I was supposed to, and I still hurt." Recovery can sometimes be a mysterious equation.

    I hope this helps and I hope you're feeling better now.

  4. Shelby -
    Recovery can be a tough nut to crack. Just be patient... listen to your body. We all want to jump right back into it - because we're on the race "high" and we either want to keep pushing it to a new level or we want some redemption from a race that didn't go as we'd planned. After all, we are ultrarunners, these thoughts drive us daily! But it's truly time to give you body a break - savor in your accomplishment and wait until the body is ready again.

    I've run 4 50's in the last 2 years. They've each been different and my body does much better now recovering than it did for my first one. I think after my first one I was pretty wiped out for a few weeks. The second one was about a week and from there it's been just a day or two. It depends how hard I race, of course. Most of my 50's (and all of them last year) were training runs leading into 100's. So I didn't really taper for them and treated them as my last long run before the big race. I recovered well, but it really depends on the race. (FYI I've had a similar thing with 100s... I recover faster now than i did after my first one). I usually hike and run the week after a 50, but I really let my body be my guide - either leave the watch at home or wear a HRM to make sure you're not working too hard. After a 100 I don't even negotiate with my mind - it's an automatic full week off with no running at all. I go for walks and will ride my road bike, but no running. I do this no matter how I feel. It's worked pretty well. After Cascade Crest I took a week off, ran easy for a few days and then was able to pace my friend at Wasatch (was 12 days after CCC). I was moving really slow pacing and I didn't feel the effects of the 100 at all.

    (I will admit - after pacing at Wasatch I went on to run a 50k around St. Helens a week later. I felt fine but the cumulative effects of the racing and pacing caught me. About a week after this 50k I got an Achilles injury that cost me the winter. I admit I let my mind do too much and didn't listen to my body)

    These long races and training runs all build on each other. We have to learn to be body whisperers and hear what they are saying to us. Even if your legs aren't sore, your endocrine system is still catching up and proper recovery is key if we really want to leap to the next level in our training and racing!

    You just did an awesome race. Savor it! I really think you've learned more about recovery from this race than many of us learn in years of racing. You're well ahead once again!!! So proud of you for your 50!!!

  5. Shelby, sounds like you've got the right ingredients, just didn't put them in the mix. I too, after my first 100 miler, made some recovery mistakes, but like Jen did take a full week off of running. After that my first run was only 2 miles.

    The food directly after a hard or long workout really is key to getting the body to begin the recovery process, but sleep too is super important.

    My new best friend for recovery is the tiger tail (tigertailusa.com). I have the go-pro and it is always with me for a quick roll out. Works wonders on sore legs, neck, and back.

  6. Thanks everyone! I knew you'd have some wise words for me and other readers contemplating their first 50.

    Steve, I started HR workouts this week and was pleased to see that what I perceived to be my 50 mile pace was right in zone 2 about 80% of the time, ticking into low - mid zone 3 on some of the climbs.

    Drew, I have some Ultragen on its way to me now, so I'll be prepared after my long runs and races.

    Jeremy, I have the travel version of The Stick coming as I'm feeling some IT band tightness, so I suspect it will be my BFF too. I'm a big klutz when it comes to using a foam roller... oy.