Give it a rest, you deserve it!
By Cynthia Menzies
Well, here we all are, at the end of the running season. How did it go? Did you have fun? Did you achieve personal goals? Did you overcome an injury or become injured along the way? Travel back in your memory and think about the words you used to call your season. Did you say something like, “That’s a wrap!” Maybe you exited early with joy (“I am done!”) or with regret (“I AM, done”)? Or, mid-way through, your running season texted with the words, “WE are done!” Maybe none of this applies to you right now and you are still racing or maybe your season never started and you are gearing up for your 2015 debut.
Life is Good
I called my season after the Winnipeg 10 and 10 race and to be honest it wasn’t an easy decision. I was fully aware of the great fall race line-up and my goal to run a PB half-marathon race in October. But my body was tired on a very cellular level and it was time to call it. Once the declaration was made, an immense amount of relief came over me and I began to think about active-recovery and all the fun ‘non-run’ specific things I could do like yoga, mountain bike riding, trail walking with my dogs and time in the gym. Life is good when cross-training is a big part of it!
Calling your season is a helpful way for you to officially announce that you are switching gears from full on to slow down. To call your season means saying to self and others that you are done competing and training toward a goal race. In other words, you are giving it a rest and beginning the very thoughtful journey of intentional active recovery. If you don’t call your season with assuredness, you could get caught in the just ‘one more hard effort workout’ or ‘one more race’ syndrome and this is not a good place to be in. The grind of always ‘training’ and ‘racing’ weighs you down. Accepting the fact that there are many more races and events than any one person can do any year helps with letting go as well. Just breathe into it.
Joy in Endings
According to The Running Times (2013), runners may also reach a performance plateau after a few races and fall well short of their true running potential, simply because they don't allow a proper recovery phase.” Sometimes we are forced to end the season early due to injury, burnout, finances, scheduling, personal loss and trauma. Honestly, calling the season can be very hard for people because it means letting go of the training and race calendar and returning to ‘everyday life’. If you are like me, the high you get from training and racing helps to carry you through the harder times. For example, training and racing with intent is often accompanied by travel, the potential for personal bests, competition and fun networking with friends. When your goals suddenly change, it can feel isolating. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way and there is joy to be found in endings especially when new beginnings are just around the corner!
While talking with my coach he shared his thoughts about the off season. His insights made a lot of sense and involved the idea that there is no such thing as an ‘off season.’ Good news for those of us that like to keep active all year round! In fact a heavy and structured training schedule should give way to an activity load with substantially less structure. This means that activity should not stop but should be reduced in volume (how much you do) and intensity (how hard you do it) and maintaining a routine is important. This brings us back to why cross training and participating in multiple activities during different seasons is important. Having a written training plan to focus your active recovery efforts is helpful too.
Active recovery, as opposed to passive recovery (which means complete rest from exercise) helps prime your body’s metabolic pathways of recovery. The psychological benefits of active recovery are apparent as many people feel better when they exercise daily. Movement has the capability to elevate mood among other positive attributes. Listed below are 7 active recovery ideas from Blake Wood, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Certified Exercise Physiologist and Kinesiologist from Pure Lifestyle, a popular Winnipeg gym. The active recovery ideas carry a low risk of injury and agree with most trainees:
- Self -Myofascial release (SMR) – Foam rolling is one form of SMR: the objective is to use implements such as foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and other specialty items (the stick) etc. in an effort to “massage your muscles.” Consistent foam rolling may improve range of motion. On your off day, try passing over all major muscle groups with a foam roller. Aim for 30 seconds on each large muscle group, avoiding joints and bony areas. Focus a little extra time on problem areas and pinpoint troublesome areas by using a lacrosse ball. Monitor your pressure; remember, the goal is to feel better after foam rolling.
- Walking – a great thing to do for active recovery. Not only can it burn calories, but also being outside can increase your feelings of well-being. The amount of walking you do on off days should be based on your current fitness level, and your training schedule.
- Lighter Weight Lifting – Performing an exercise that made you particularly sore, but using a much lighter weight may be restorative. As a guide, use a weight at or below 30 percent of your usual weight, and perform one set shy of failure.
- Hiking – like walking, it can burn significant calories. Once again it must be tailored towards your current fitness level. If you feel worse after the hike than when you started it probably has done more harm than good as far as active recovery.
- Swimming – particularly low stress due to the weightlessness. You can have a great swimming workout engaging the muscular and cardiovascular system without added pressure on your joints. Take into consideration current fitness level.
- Yoga – mobility work can be a form of active recovery that can be done every day. Typically each joint in the body is taken through a safe range of motion. Yoga is an example of mobility work that some people use as active recovery. It can be beneficial if you appreciate your current fitness level and learn from a good instructor.
- Cycling – like the other forms of aerobic exercise can be a great active recovery workout, as long as you match the intensity to your current fitness levels.
Contributors: A big thank you to Scott Brown (endurance athlete and training enthusiast/coach) and Blake Wood (endurance athlete and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) for your helpful insights, discussions and knowledge sharing regarding the topic of active recovery. Thank you to Fern Bérard for editing the article.
It's a good day to be alive, rested, healthy, and focussed. Thank you for the reminder Cynthia.