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3 R's: Running, Racing, and Recovery

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I've been a runner for about two years, with altogether too much time off to recover from injuries. I'm no longer a newbie, but I'm still a fairly recent runner with a lot to learn. The difficult parts aren't the things I know I need to learn; they're the things that sneak up on me and whup me upside the head with the education.

To be fair, some of those things that whupped me upside the head did so because I didn't want to believe what more experienced people were saying. Those are my own fault. Others were because I didn't understand what more experienced people were saying. I'm not so sure "fault" is a relevant concept for those.

Today I'm pondering a cluster of things where I didn't understand what the more experienced people were saying, and probably still don't understand it all the way. But this stuff has graduated from the class of "stuff I don't know I need to learn," to the class of "stuff I know I don't understand all the way."

Yesterday I ran the best 5K race of my life so far. This morning, my body told me there's a reason the more experienced people say rest days are an important part of training. No, I'm not suffering from overdoing things; I just need a day of not pushing my body very hard. So today became a mostly resting Sunday. I had planned to go to the gym to lift weights, but decided to forego that today. To get my 10K steps in, I took a gentle walk that averaged a 15:29 pace per mile. And I thought about some stuff more experience people have said, in light of my recent experiences.

Yesterday I ran a race, but it was only a 5K. In a comment on yesterday's blog, Robert (ON2VICTORY) suggested I delete the statement that it's only a 5K. I didn't understand that comment yesterday, but maybe I understand it a bit better now.

I thought of it as "only a 5K" because I run further than that on my lunch break Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was no doubt that I could run that far. It could be just another run. But it wasn't. It was a race, and I went into that race with three goals:

1. Avoid injury
2. Finish in 21 minutes or less
3. Win my age group

I achieved all three goals, and I still feel pretty good about that. But now I'm contemplating *how* I achieved them and what it means. I achieved them by running differently than I do when I just go out and run. I set a faster pace, which was expected in a competitive environment. I warmed up quite a bit before the race, to support setting a consistently fast pace. I controlled my pace and didn't try to pass guys who were close to me just because they were close. And I worked that pace so that I didn't have much of a sprint left for the finish line, and it felt really good to slow to a walk after I crossed the finish line. I might not have left everything on the course, but I came close.

Out of that effort, I got some aches that I haven't been getting from training runs, and I got a serious need for a rest day today that isn't like what I feel the day after a 4.4 mile run at an average 6:50 pace. This, after a shorter, "only a 5K" run. What's going on?

What's going on is, there's a difference between running and racing. I can go out and run for pleasure. I can do that consistently 3 days a week at my current fitness level. I can do this without needing recovery time other than my non-running days. This works partly because part of running to have fun is not pushing myself so hard that it isn't fun.

I've run several organized races as just running, with a goal to run the entire distance, have fun, and finish in good shape. In some cases, the competitive environment and Mr. Testosterone talked me into running faster than I should. In some cases, I held back enough to feel pretty good. A couple of times, this feel-good level of effort produced an age group medal that wasn't expected. But this time, I didn't just run. I raced. I set out deliberately to win the age group, and to control my pace so as to run the fasted 5K I could. It worked, but I can't do this every day. I don't even want to try to do this every week, even for a short distance that's only a 5K.

With this experience, I have a little better understanding of the training cycle more experienced people talk about. The idea is to train so that on race day, you achieve peak performance. The cost is that you need recovery time. For this little race, only a 5K, I'll likely be okay with just one mostly resting Sunday and a non-running Monday. For a longer race, the recovery time would be longer and a more detailed recovery plan would be helpful.

Now that I've experienced a real, if minor, need for recovery, I'm beginning to think about longer races differently. Do I really want to race a 10K on Thanksgiving Day, or would I rather just run that event? That decision will make a qualitative difference to how I feel on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

I'm tentatively thinking that I just want to run my first half marathon, whenever I'm trained well enough to complete one. Deliberately competing to be as fast as possible needs to wait until after I achieve the goal of completing the 13.1 mile distance.

I'll be thinking about the cycle of running, racing, and recovery for the next month, as I train myself up to running the 10K distance. I might not make a decision on how aggressively to run the Race with Grace until Thanksgiving morning, and that's okay. I just need to remember that, no matter what goals I set for a race, the first goal will remain unchanged for all of them.

Goal number one: Avoid injury.

This is important, because I already know that winning an age group, or beating a desired time, or finishing ahead of everyone older than me is not the most important thing for any race I might enter. The most important thing is, still being able to run regularly after the race.

If I have to give up racing, or even give up running in organized events, I could live with that. I'd rather not have to give up running. Been there, done that, don't want to do it any more.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Well stated Kevin. At our ages, avoiding injury is critical if we want to keep running.

    One of the things I have noticed in my ramping back up from my Achilles tendon injury is that I am ENJOYING running right now -- not competing against myself like I think I was before the injury.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful blog. Gave me LOTS to think about as I head into my 5K on Saturday!
    1702 days ago
    One rule of thumb that is popular is to take a day of recovery per mile raced. So, a 5K on Saturday would result in recovery days for Sun/Mon & Tuesday. Your 3 day week would be cut to 2 days then resume 3 days of running next week.

    The lifting and walking are Ok, its the recovery from the muscles affected by the pounding that benefit from the longer than training recovery cycle.
    1702 days ago
    I've been running for most of my life, and I've never really given it a lot of thought. Reading this post was kind of a slap upside my head, as I found myself thinking, "Hey! I should have realized/been thinking about/been focusing on that, too!"
    1702 days ago
    I never increase my mileage more than 10 percent of my weekly overall distance when running.....this way I avoid injury. I would suggest a foam roller if you don't have one as they are great on the quads, hamis, and IT bands before and after exercise.

    Listen to your body and run for fun until next season.....why take the chance of injury when you know you aren't 100 percent?
    1702 days ago
    You achieved your goals, now relish the personal victory with a few days of R&R so you can stay healthy.
    1702 days ago
    Kudos to you on the racing and running--it sounds like you've trained wisely along the way for the most part (there was an injury somewhere?) I have to laugh because your blog seems a direct opposite of mine today on 'junk miles'. But I love this and your enthusiasm! Wish I had your speed ;-).
    1702 days ago
    Great words that I can live by, too! I appreciate that you put your experiences into a blog for others, like me, that are still new to running and racing!

    I completely understand the racing vs. running now that I've ran and raced my first HM.

    Thanks for the blog! I loved it!
    1702 days ago
    From *my* experienced perspective of the longer distance races? Run the first one. Always just run the first one and soak it all in. Racing can wait for the second half marathon and later.

    Same is true of triathlon. First one--just do it. Next one, work on improving!

    Anyway, as with everything, results may vary, and you'll find what works for you.

    Well done with your first experience as a "racer". emoticon
    1702 days ago
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