I will come out and say this: I do not practice what I preach. For years I have read and told many new runners, “Recovery is important and after a long, hard race one must actively recover to benefit fully.” For my entire running life (past 7+ years of running) I have failed to recover correctly after a long training run or race. I kept wondering why my gains were not where I needed them to be and why my feelings of burnout were ever growing.
I was young, invincible and winning age group awards at most of my California Ultra races. My usual training pace was reckless and never below a race pace. I decided to make a New Years Resolution to run one Ultra marathon every month for a year. During that year, I ran nine 50k trail races and two 50-mile trail races. I kept PRing in the 50k distance going from a sub 6 hours to mid 4:40’s. I made the decision to run a 100-mile race: the 2012 Rio Del Lago 100, finishing 3rd in my age group and feeling immortal! After the high faded along with the aches and pains, I tried to go out to the trails and train for my next race.
This is when I noticed something was off. My race times soon were much slower and my ability to psychologically tell my legs to move was no longer there. I have read many times on various running websites that too much mileage without much recovery is unsustainable. I did not think this would happen to me because, frankly, I am a young and healthy. But it did happen and my fall was hard and sudden. I suddenly could not run more than 10-miles at a time and my ever-growing love for this sport was ever fading.
It took nearly 2 years to regain my love of the sport. It started by training my wife from a newbie to a competent trail runner and seeing the spark grow inside her reminded me of the wonderful memories I had of “the good ol’ days.” Every step further was a new adventure eventually building her up to an 11-mile long run. Soon we were making plans to train for a trail half-marathon when we go back home for Easter.
While I was training my wife I helped her push through the highs and the lows that every runner has felt. The grit and the determination to finish a training run in the Shenandoah mountains made me incredibly inspired and wanting to take my training to the next level again. As I continued to support my wife with her new distances, I would break away once or twice a week to run a longer run – usually in the 20-30 mile range. For the first time in a while I was enjoying the sounds, smells and textures that nature offers. The finishing time didn’t matter anymore as the experience left a more lasting impression within my own psyche.
After a few months I made up my mind that I would run a 100k race in North Carolina. I decided to run a 50-mile trail race down in Tennessee called the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler as a training run for quality time on the feet. I was meeting an old California friend and we would run the first 20ish miles together and then run our own race. He ended up destroying me, passing me at the 24-mile mark and finished about 20 minutes ahead of myself. But my slow, methodical pace allowed me to feel “fresh” at the finish line with zero pains and most importantly: a positive attitude.
When I continued my training for my goal race two days later, my wife’s slower pace forced me to actively recover instead of letting my lactic acid continue to pool in my legs by being a couch potato or going too fast too soon. I was training her to become a better runner and she was training me to slow down and fully recover; it was truly something special. Instead of my usual race pace 30 miler the following weekend like I did a few years back, I was now running a conversational pace 10 miler. The recovery time to feel 100% went down to just a week and a half because of lowered intensity. It was something I have never thought about trying because before my head was far up my bum to listen to it.
A few weeks later came race day! I was amped up and ready to enjoy the entire day (and partial evening) ahead. I took the first 40 miles incredibly relaxed, taking pictures of the views and talking to all the runners and aid station volunteers. When I came to the 40-mile turnaround I learned that I was in 8th place overall and a few runners were just a few miles ahead. I ran harder than I think I have ever ran during this last 21.5 miles, catching 4 runners moving me into 4th overall by the finish line! It was by far the best race I have ever experienced but not because of the place. It was because of the no pressure attitude I had, enjoying myself and when it was time to put in work, I did.
Since training my wife, running is no longer monotonous or a chore. It is enjoyable because I can challenge myself sparingly while coaching my wife to become even better. When she crosses the finish line at her first half marathon this April, I will probably be just as excited as she will. The look on her face will once again reinvigorate my drive to feel the way she is at that moment. So we will continue to train together and lean on each other to keep each other healthy; for her physically and for myself mentally. I was able to learn how to recover not only my legs after a long run, but also to recover my love of this simple, yet so very complex sport of running.