After finishing nineteen 100-mile races over the last seven years, I feel like I know a few things about training, nutrition, pacing, mental games, and toughing it out. The only missing piece of the 100-mile puzzle is recovery. I am still not sure how to bounce back, still find the process mysterious at best. My recovery tends to look more like the Leadville 100 elevation profile, instead of like a smooth, straight line leading upward. I do know how important it is to give your body time to rest. I do know what to eat after you stagger across the finish line (lots of protein and veggies!). I do know how to ease back into training. I know what to do. I just have a hard time doing what I should. It all looks good on paper, but reality tends to diverge from the ideal, at least for me
Part of the reason I struggle with recovery that I train horses for a living. It’s my job to ride 8 or more of them every day, so I have to get my feet back into boots and my butt back into the saddle as soon as possible after a 100 miler. I know that active recovery is a good strategy. Riding horses all day seems like a good way to actively recover, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. I am not sure what I’m doing wrong. A detailed and honest breakdown of my typical 100-mile recovery might give some clues:
Saturday, June 15th
2:41 pm: Finish Bighorn 100. Hug everyone in sight. Feel ecstatic.
2:45 pm: Narcolepsy attack. Take post-race nap at finish line. Wake up 20 minutes later. Drag self back to airbnb with a little help from my friends.
3:45 pm pm Take pre-shower nap.
4:15 pm Take shower (exhausting effort).
4:45 pm Take post-shower nap.
6 pm: Wake up. Realize I’ve missed the awards ceremony. Stay awake long enough to devour random food items found in kitchen (don’t remember exactly what they were, or who they belonged to).
6:30 pm: Go back to sleep.
Sunday, June 16th – Recovery Day 1
6 am: Wake up feeling like geriatric zombie. Brag on Facebook. Bask in post-100 mile glory. Feel invincible.
6:30 am: Try to get up. Wallow in post-100-mile misery. Feel only pain.
7 am: Actually get up (in slow motion). Swallow Advil. Drink coffee.
7:30 am: Slap new band-aids on top of old band-aids on top of blisters.
8 am: Moving in slow motion, gather up muddy clothes, shoes, drop bags, and gear from floor of Airbnb. Throw muddy piles of stuff into car (also in slow motion).
9 am to 8 pm: Drive 10 hours, using caffeine, Twizzlers, and loud music to stay awake. Arrive home. Hug husband, dogs, and cats (in slow motion).
8:30 pm Dump piles of drop bags and other muddy items onto living room floor.
9 pm: Take more Advil.
9:30 pm: Collapse.
Perceived age: 110
Nutrition: ca. 17 cups of coffee.
Random junk food harvested from various gas stations between Sheridan, Wyoming and Las Vegas, New Mexico.
(48% refined sugar, 48% empty carbs, 1% sodium 1% artificial color 1% artificial flavor, 1% other harmful chemicals. Zero protein, Zero vitamins. Zero nutritional value)
Miles run: Zero (duh!)
Monday, June 17th – Recovery Day 2
7 am: Wake up feeling still feeling like zombie, but a younger, less creaky one (progress, yay!).
7:30 am: Wrestle feet, blisters and all, into boots. Pull riding pants on over bruised, scraped knees.
8 am: Take Advil. Drive to barn.
9 am to 3 pm: Moving in slow motion, lunge horses. Try to climb on a couple of them. Fail.
3 pm to 4 pm: Drive back home.
4 pm to 7 pm: Sit on couch. Contemplate dealing with drop bags. Contemplate using liniment on sore legs. Contemplate muddy mess on floor. Contemplate using foam roller. Do nothing.
7 pm: Eat pizza. Drink wine.
8 pm: Contemplate laundry process. Decide to eat ice cream instead.
8:15 pm: Contemplate unpacking at least one drop bag. Decide to eat more ice cream instead.
9 pm: Collapse.
Perceived age: 81
Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal with protein powder and blueberries (to atone for yesterday’s junk food spree).
Lunch: Three handfuls of peppermint candies (only edible thing at the barn. They’re meant for horse treats, but I forgot my healthy lunch on the kitchen counter this morning, so they became my treats)
Dinner: Half a large pizza (extra protein in cheese). Two glasses of wine (full of antioxidants)
Unknown quantity of ice cream (threw away empty container to get rid of evidence, but surely it must have some nutritional value. Ditto for whipped cream and liberal dose of chocolate syrup)
(Total: about 30%sugar, 30%fat, i.e. cheese, 30% empty carbs, 10% protein. A few vitamins from blueberries)
Horses ridden: zero
Miles run: also zero (though I walked 15 000 steps at the barn)
Drop bags unpacked: zero
Tuesday, June 18th – Recovery Day 3
6:30 am: Wake up feeling more alive than dead. Progress, yay!
8 am to 5 pm: Ride six horses, none of them very long, still moving slowly.
6 pm: Arrive home. Soak in Epsom salt. Eat semi-healthy dinner.
7:30 pm Contemplate unpacking drop bags. Doze off in front of TV instead.
10 pm Move from couch to bed. Go to sleep.
Perceived age: 67
Nutrition: getting back to normal, i.e. roughly 75% good for me veggies, grains, and proteins, 25% bad-for-me treats
Horses ridden: Six
Miles run: Still zero (though my Garmin counts riding horses as walking, which means it showed 28 000 steps, yay!)
Drop bags unpacked: Zero
Wednesday, June 19 – Recovery Day 4
6:30 am: Wake up feeling achey and congested.
7 am: Gargle with salt water. Take vitamin C. Take DayQuil.
8 am: Drag self to barn. Ride three horses, sneezing and shivering. Lunge the rest.
4 pm: Drag self back home. Take shower. Eat chicken soup. Take Nyquil.
5 pm: Curl up under pile of blankets with cup of peppermint tea and box of Kleenex.
Perceived age: 76
Nutrition: Mostly cough drops and chicken soup (80% sugar, 10%protein, 5% menthol, 5% sodium)
Boxes of Kleenex used: Three
Horses ridden: Three.
Miles run: Still zero.
On day five to ten, I gradually get over the post-100 mile cold, flu, stomach bug, or other ailment. My energy slowly returns to normal. My perceived age returns to 49, which it actually is. A week after the 100, I usually go for a six-mile shuffle and start rebuilding my mileage. I also unpack the drop bags eventually. And I sign up for another ultra, though I should know better by now.
So, how can I improve the recovery process? Is a physical job good or bad for 100-mile recovery? How can I keep my immune system from tanking after an ultra? I am still searching for these answers. I would love to hear your recovery strategies and suggestions. And I do know one thing for certain: crossing that finish line is worth all the pain – of training, of racing, of recovering.
Run happy out there,