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Thoughts on Recovery

16 January, 2011

This has been a very easy week compared to the previous two, certainly by way of volume. It’s interesting to note how recovery happens in different phases. I’m sleeping well again, having caught up on what went missing before. (I didn’t note it here, playing the optimist, but my sleep was beginning to suffer). Also, my 12km run yesterday both felt easier and was faster than the same run on Tuesday. That said, I felt by no means fresh this morning, and never really “found my stride” throughout the whole ninety minutes, and it was a good twenty seconds per km slower than last week’s longer long run. For me, this is a definite sign that recovery is still happening. It’s not unusual to be stiff/uncoordinated/cranky at the start of a run, but that feeling tends to go away after ten or twenty minutes.

One criteria by which a block of training can be judged successful is whether the time required for recovery is short enough to prevent detraining from happening in that period. In an extreme scenario, a stress fracture would definitely require so much time as to invalidate the training that brought it on (although it would be interesting to know if stress-fractured bones heal stronger) . Less clear is the situation where you start to wander into the overtraining zone (for example, the second week before my last goal race in the Victoria 8k) — you pile on the training, and maybe you break down or maybe you outdo yourself. I hate to admit it, but there is an element of chaos and chance here. Heavy training is a gamble which may or may not pay off, and perhaps the only way to minimize the risk is to know intimately the way that we respond to different types of training. To be fair, the last couple of sessions at the track have also been a step-up (e.g. 4x1600m and 5x1200m, up from three and four repeats, respectively).

Even though the notion of entropy is much overused, and even abused, I want to use it here too! (Though I may be out of my depth in the geek pool). When we start training, we’re best advised to aim for nothing more than a regular exercise regime, which might start to look like a homogenous daily routine of four to six miles, for example. It’s low risk, but you don’t get anywhere close to fulfilling your potential as a runner. As you get better at recognizing the tell-tale signs of overtraining, as well as anticipating the effects of different workouts, you tend to “bunch” your training more and more. You have different workouts within a week, and within those workouts you might start to get more adventurous, working on your top-end speed with 200m repeats. Over the course of a month, you concentrate your training within certain weeks, and recover in the others. Over the course of a year you have recovery, base-building, strength-endurance phases and so on. In a way this is all just periodization, but what I’m saying is that the limit to what we can do with periodization is the self-knowledge we gain through trial-and-error over the course of a running career.

See where I’m going with this? Don’t ask me how to measure it — it’s complicated, my head hurts, and I’m feeling blond! Perhaps the difference in pace between fastest and slowest workouts would be one useful metric.

Friday: 0km.

Yesterday: 52′ (12km).

Today: 90′ (20km).

This week: 54km.

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