Recovery: It's the biggest deal in running today. The better and faster you are able to recover from a hard effort, the stronger and sooner the next hard effort may be. But recovery is not just for the body - it effects your mind and motivation and coping skills just as much.
Recently, I've been suffering from temporary mild freak-out episodes, where everything feels like it's coming down around my head: I don't have a moment to think, to write, to reflect, to enjoy life. I'm just going going going...and I proclaim, for all to hear, that something must give or else I will snap.
What the hell is my problem? I've got a good life: A loving and supportive family. A job (actually multiple jobs) that I find rewarding and stimulating (usually). I've carved out time for my passionate pursuits - and yet, I feel just plain w-o-r-n d-o-w-n to the bone.
What I've come to recognize and accept is that I am not getting enough shut-eye! Sleep often is sacrificed for so called "greater ends" - but at some point you hit the wall. You drag yourself through your day. There's no vim, no vigor in your spirit - You are unable to sort through the moments and happenings of your days and weeks. You feel completely overwhelmed.
We runners spend so much time talking about ice baths, and recovery drinks, and foam rollers, etc. but we're missing THE most important part of recovery. Perhaps it's the key to a flourishing life. A necessary, though perhaps not entirely sufficient ingredient for a good life: adequate, quality sleep!
How fast and how well you recover between hard workouts can make or break a training cycle. Recover well and quickly, and you may reap the benefits of hard runs. Recover poorly, and find yourself slipping into over training, exhaustion, depression...and ever slowing times even with greater effort.
Many runners succumb to the idea that if I just keep working harder I will get stronger, faster - I will become awesome - I just need to do more, run faster...If one VO2Max workout isn't bringing down my times, then I'd better add another. I've just gotta get my lazy butt in gear and push, push, push. But the question is: Does this approach really work?
Work, stress, effort - without recovery means only that you will tear yourself down and never build yourself up. The benefit of a particular run is both the work (which will result in muscular micro-tears) and the rest that allows stressed muscle to heal and become stronger in the process. If that healing does not happen, you will only get weaker, slower, and more susceptible to injury - and of course you're going to be depressed because the harder you work the crappier you feel!
Recently I attended a weekend Coach Training seminar with the Lydiard Foundation. We spent a fair amount of time on recovery and the 12 significant predictors of recovery. Dr. Peter Davis, who served as Exercise Physiologist beginning in 1981 with Nike's Athletics West and later (among other notable appointments) was recruited by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to direct their Coaching and Sport Sciences Division, made a comment that cut through the air and hit me square between the eyes: Sleep is the number one, most important factor for recovery. And it is the most under recognized factor today, for everyone, for health and well being.
Now, I've known for a long long time that I haven't really given sleep its due, and I always say "tomorrow night I'll go to bed earlier", but let's face it - that doesn't happen. But this comment shook me from my dogmatic overachieving insomnia, and caused me to dig deeper and find out more. Could this be one of my problems?
So, what are some of the effects of sleep deprivation?
And here's the kicker - while most adults require at least 8 hours of sleep per day, athletes require more, upwards of 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Add to this that research also indicates that all sleep is not equal - WHEN you get the sleep matters - and the more sleep you can get before 12 a.m. the better. So sleeping from 9 p.m.- 6a.m. allows for a better, more restorative sleep than sleeping from 12 a.m.- 9 a.m.
The problem here is not a couple nights of bad sleep. The problem is when we consistently get inadequate sleep. In our go-go-go culture, this is often the case for many of us. We make due and get by on 4-5 hours of sleep and solider on. I've heard many many runners say "You can sleep when you're dead". But this attitude is undermining all of our other efforts! Overtime, long term inadequate sleep results in changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress and how we deal with stress, muscle recovery, and mood. Sleep deprivation also leads to elevated levels of cortisol and human growth hormone which may interfere with tissue repair and growth, and glycogen synthesis decreases. Hence, there's a constant breakdown with out the necessary rebuilding and refueling. Over time, this can lead to injury and overtraining as we constantly make demands on our bodies but never allow for repair to take place.
So I'm doing EVERYTHING I can do to get more sleep. If it means I don't have the cleanest house in the world, so be it. If it means I need to scale back on some activities, then that's what it's gotta be. It isn't easy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But I've been consciously and conscientiously working on this for a several weeks - and the effort continues...
Get stronger - be happier - sleep more. Start today!
Here's some interesting studies and articles on this subject: