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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On The Offensive

Okay, that hurt.

We've reached run number one of season three, and it was no picnic. Sure, it was only 3 miles, but combine that with leftover soreness from Seattle and scorching temperatures, and you've got yourself one interesting Tuesday evening.

You see, I did not get up early today. I know. Great start to that whole "run with discipline" thing, but I'm still catching up on rest from the absurdity that was the last few weeks, so I'm giving myself a little bit of latitude this week, and it's only because my legs are still killing me. Honestly, they hurt so much that when watching a movie last night, I slightly cringed every time someone stood up from a chair, imagining how much that would hurt to do. Still, the sooner I'm back up to par the better, so giving myself a break doesn't mean that I'm not going to try and do my best.

Which meant that I had to get in my miles today, painfully or not. What's always interested me about the post-run soreness I get is that going up hills and stairs is nowhere near as difficult as going down. Common sense would seem to dictate the opposite: if gravity is doing the work, the legs are doing less, and this should be easier to do post-race. However, in my (completely unprofessional) opinion and experience, using the muscles actually makes them feel better far more quickly than not using them, and up is easier than down. In my mind, it's a theory of offense and defense.

As you go up a slope in running, your muscles are on the offense. They push forward and up, engaging every step of the way. Going down, however, the muscles have to run defense as well, focusing less on power and more on control. When my legs hurt, any defensive use of muscles sends up huge red flags in my system, and the muscles scream in pain. On offense, they're in control of what's going on, and they feel better more quickly. This got me thinking in general of the things I do when recovering from a big run, so I figured I'd list them out (keeping in mind that this is merely from my experience, and everyone is different, so be careful):

My (Common Sense) Keys To Race Recovery:

1) REST! - This one is the most obvious, and often one of the most difficult to do. Yes, muscles will heal faster if they are used, but if using them causes an unbearable amount of pain, then they're not ready to go yet. Don't run the risk of tearing, spraining or breaking something. If you can't walk normally, you can't run yet. At the very least, think of what would happen if you have a sharp pain and fall over? You'll know when you're ready, so don't push too soon.

2) Use Muscles Offensively - Most people cannot avoid inclines and declines in their daily lives, which often leads to uncomfortable moments climbing stairs at the office the day after a marathon. Do what you can to engage the muscles. Going up stairs shouldn't be that much of a problem if you've got a railing. If you're in a lot of pain, descend stairs backwards. It helps to keep the muscles active rather than simply landing on them.

3) Hydrate - You lose a lot of water during the race, and most people will fill up immediately after, but don't forget to keep going. Those three bottles you chug at the finish line are going to wipe all the toxins out of your body pretty quickly, but you still need to just replace the water. Make sure you keep taking in fluids for at least 48 hours.

4) Painkillers? - Many people will go straight to the bottle of ibuprofen the moment they walk in the door after a race, and this isn't the worst idea, but it's also not the best. You want to be able to use your muscles as normally as possible, and having less pain in your legs is a good start. However, if you are loading up on painkillers, you might not have a good idea of where your recovery is at, and prolonged use of most painkillers has other detrimental health effects. This falls solidly in the "as needed" category.

5) Easy In - When you do start running again, take it easy. It might be a good idea to take a couple extra days off, or to do some lower-impact cross training on the first few days. As I said, you know your body, but pushing too hard too early can cause injury. When you start back up start slow, make sure everything is working well, and then start to ease back to your speed.

Oh, and try not to do your first run back on a Texas summer afternoon.

Tuesday's Run:
97 Degrees / Sunny
3.3 Miles
23 Minutes, 55 Seconds

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