Coach Monty: Multi-day Stage Races - Recovery
Adequate and appropriate recovery from racing is vital for long term healthy running. It is not an arbitrary figure that can be plucked from the air and applied to all races. Time is transient and dependent on internal and external factors. Multi-day stage racing is even more complicated.
The problems associated with inadequate recovery from racing can be a result of success from a race which fuels adrenaline to chase further success quickly. This is counterproductive. Additionally, when a race doesn’t go to plan, the runner can be eager to chase success without considering the load taken from the body and mind regardless of the result of the race or not. Inadequate recovery from racing can lead to injury and illness. The bones, soft tissue and energy stores all need replenishment as a result of a combination of rest, good nutrition and minimal stress. Additionally, motivation, determination and resilience need to be recharged to allow the runner to make strong and positive choices in training and preparing for future races. If either of these is inadequate, overuse related injuries can occur such as stress fractures, and Chronic injuries such as patellar tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis or IT band Syndrome. All, where long term stress on the soft tissue causes damage to the tendons which connect muscle to bone. This could be a tear or inflammation but the limited blood supply means a longer healing time. Racing and training cause stress. No matter how enjoyable the experiences are, the preparation and demand on the mind is cumulative and the mind needs to relax without the pressure of an external load against it to enable the runner to cope with future demands.
Multi-day stage races require runners to carry or supply their own food. This requires pre-planning. Runners bring supplies of either limited calorific value or nutritional value to adequately enable recovery over the week of racing. Day to day racing the runner there is a cumulative energy deficit effect and this is extended over the period of a week. A single day racing, adequate recovery can begin straight away. Part of good preparation for a race is good planning of food and hydration throughout the race week to replenish nutrients and energy reserves not only for the next day but the whole week. Semi-supported races, where a runner has a bag transferred from stage to stage and can then prepare their own , is more beneficial than carrying one's own. But, it is limited what can fit into one bag and nutritional balance as well as energy is needed for physical and mental recovery. This must be accounted for after a race. While a runner may feel great after a week's racing which has proven to be a success, it is very likely they are lacking vital nutrients for every part of their recovery.
Stage racing often requires runners to rest and sleep in tents or unfamiliar surroundings. This leads to cumulative fatigue as the only time the body recovers is during rest. This means sleep. If this is disturbed recovery is inhibited. The environment is often extreme and exposure to changes in temperature and weather also eats into valuable reserves physically and mentally. A single stage race, there is almost always the incentive of a hot shower or bath and comfy bed at the end, unlike multi-day stage racing.
It is not all doom and gloom. At the end of each running day, the runner can primarily focus on oneself, strictly away from other distractions which sometimes they cannot do on single day racing and training. Recovery can be prioritised as soon as they cross the line, away from distractions and time spent lightly moving, resting, stretching, eating and hydrating.
People often return home from a holiday more tired than when they left. The sheer preparation of being 1-2 weeks away from home and travelling long distances by long haul flights and vehicle transfers all need to be accounted for in the recovery.
Exercise can continue after a stage race. But it is important that for a period it is balanced between cross training, light running and hiking. Non weight bearing activity and exercise at low intensity should be prioritised for a significant period to ensure all reserves are replenished physically and mentally. The better the runner focuses on their recovery and minimises other stressors, the quicker they will recover. Patience is vital. In the first few days, there is often an adrenaline surge which can encourage us to get out running. But, this short term high is only temporary and we will often find 7-10 days after a race the fatigue both physically and mentally really sets in. Pre planning for that and what you will do before and after is vital.
So, this piece may have opened up more questions than answers. But, importantly I hope it has reminded us of the things we already know. Or should prioritise. A checklist to help ensure longer term healthier racing, training and running. Multi-day stage racing is often the most exciting and exhilarating running of all. Mixing a race, with a cultural experience and some say ‘holiday’ too, But, it is a rather increasingly larger set of variables to contend with mean recovery needs to be considered individually and specifically.