Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday Night Spin: Race Recovery Edition

There are no fun additions to my indoor cycling music library or new playlists this week. Balancing parenting, running, serving, and spinning sometimes requires that I recycle a playlist or throw songs together however they may suit my mood. As much as I'd always love to be at my prime every Tuesday at 6:45, last night I definitely had to fake it to make it. I'm not talking about the effort, though. I just had to pretend that I didn't feel like my quads were tearing at the seams. It's easy to "grin and bear it"; when you're grinding your teeth and grimacing in pain, just turn it into a really big smile if you catch anyone looking at you.

I threw together some quick-paced, up-beat music, took a bunch of Advil, and hobbled my way into the room. I wasn't going to admit I'd been taking elevators and escalators for the past two days, nor was I going to pretend to turn up the resistance when I instructed the class to the same. The truth is, the longer I sat around, the worse I started to feel mentally. Getting on the bike and giving it a good effort would help my body and my mind, which I needed after the frustration of several days of limping.

I want to be clear that it IS important to rest after a hard effort, especially something like a race. Sometimes, I'm less than brilliant when it comes to that. I'll think Sure, I can work a Saturday night right after a half-marathon! and then forget to eat enough or drink enough Gatorade. My rest didn't come until Sunday evening and my body was just completely broken by then. I looked as if I'd been born without any joints in my legs, I was so stiff. I was walking like a peg-legged pirate, with two pegs. I may as well have been wearing an eye patch so that guests in the restaurant could maybe only half tell that I was making weird faces as I fought the urge to whimper and moan.

My window of opportunity had passed to get in a decent recovery workout, or so I'd thought, which is why I wanted to make sure I put together a decent class to really help "flush" my muscles out. As it turns out, even with all the wisdom I've gained from my personal training certifications and classes, the workout was beneficial, but not for the reasons I thought. A recovery workout actually does nothing to help the body recover, although it is practiced by people of all abilities and levels, from the elite marathoners down to you and me.

Makes no sense, right?

I'll let the smart people over at to clarify: 
There is evidence that fitness adaptations occur not so much in proportion to how much time you spend exercising but rather in proportion to how much time you spend exercising beyond the point of initial fatigue in workouts. So-called key workouts (runs that are challenging in their pace or duration) boost fitness by taking your body well beyond the point of initial fatigue.
 Recovery workouts, on the other hand, are performed entirely in a fatigued state, and therefore also boost fitness despite being shorter and/or slower than key workouts.

So it's not about pumping imaginary magical healing fluids throughout the body and into the muscles to make the stitch themselves back together after the damage sustained from a hard run. Also, you are not ridding your muscles of lactic acid; your body does that on its own within an hour of completing your workout.

For me, what this translates to is less emphasis on when I do a "recovery" workout so long as I make sure I get moving again within a few days after a challenging race. Theoretically, I already pushed my body above and beyond its most fatigued state when I had to don my uniform and slip-resistant shoes.

What I read also supports what I told my class last night:
When you're feeling the most tired from work, life, your last workout, or all of the above, is when you need to get back to the gym the MOST. There is nothing to gain from NOT working out!
What's your tried and true post-race recovery routine?

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