1. Donna 110-mi (Feb. 14-15): 16:54 (1st Overall and new course record)
2. Everglades Ultras 50-mi (Feb. 21): 7:43 (6th or 7th overall . . . I don't remember which one)
3. Daytona 100-mi (Feb. 28- Mar. 1): 21:25 (maiden "voyage" of course)
4. Cross Florida Route 40 "Romp" 116-mi (Mar. 7-8): 22:56 (1st Overall and new course record)
5. Palm 32k (Mar. 15): 2:43 (2nd OA)
6. Badwater Cape Fear 51.4-mi (Mar. 21): 8:26 (14th OA)
7. Ft. Clinch 50-mi (Mar. 28): 8:27
After running 7 races in 7 weekends, totaling 495 miles, I've repeatedly been asked two main questions:
(1) "Seriously, dude, you need some help. You know that, right?"
(2) "All kidding aside, how did you recover in time to not just complete, but race week in and out for so long?"
Regarding the first question, I was only a psychology major for about my first two years in college before I made the (cough) incredibly-intelligent decision to be a political science major and go to law school. (Actually, I loved law school, but that's a subject for another article). My point here is that I am in no way qualified to diagnose myself. My "overload" plan of 7 races in 7 weeks was deliberate and had a purpose, and I've written about that before (click here for that article).
This article is about that second question: my tips to help recover from ultras as quickly as possible, especially if you would like to run another one in short order. So here we go...
2. the day-after recovery "run."
An old adage for after running a marathon or an ultra is "put your feet up and take some time off, you've earned it." I 90% agree with that statement. I would modify it a bit to read: "Once you go for your 2-3 mile shake-out 'run' the day after your race, put your feet up and take some time off, you've earned it."
I make all of my Team Zwitty runners get up and move a few miles the day after a race. They all hate me for it before they do their "run"; they all thank me for it later. I have been racing marathons and ultras for 15 years now. Active recovery simply works better than passive recovery (i.e., sitting on the couch). It doesn't matter how fast you move for those few miles the day after the race. Walking is completely fine. Just get up and move a little bit; it will kick-start the recovery process so your body can begin to heal the damaged muscles, flush out all the built-up lactic acid and fluid your body accumulated during the race, and get you on the path to feeling normal again.
Ask any of our runners: active recovery works.
(Demonstrating the proper pace for a post-race shake-out "run" . . . hand weights optional) :)
2. indulge for 24-48 hours, then clean it up...
Okay, so leading up to your ultra, you've kept your diet clean (mostly), you didn't stay out late on weekend nights, and you were generally committed to doing your best at your race. Congrats! That's the type of dedication needed to really do well at these things.
Now that you're done, though, and even though you might have another race coming up, if you do not allow yourself to "cheat" a bit regarding your food/beverage choices for about 24-48 hours after your race, you never will. It's okay to let go of the reins a little bit after the race. Order that steak. Have dessert. Whatever it is you like. You've earned it :)
(First 24-48 hours, go for it...) (...then it's back to this! You are an athlete, so eat like one!)
3. if it is a main prop on "the bachelor pad," it probably won't help your recovery.
Yes, I love how it feels to soak in a hot tub. We all do. But besides being complete cesspools of germ-breeding utopia, spas do not -- in my experience -- promote recovery at all. I have actually found the opposite to be true: my legs feel more sore the day after sitting in a hot tub. And that's in addition to the fact your immune system is at it's most susceptible when you are depleted right after a tough ultra. It's hard enough to stay healthy during this period . . . don't roll out the welcome mat for germs/viruses.
On a related note, if you ever find yourself at one of the "party pools" in Vegas (or anywhere else) that seem to be all the rage these days, do yourself a favor and don't actually get in the pool. There are hundreds of people standing in the pools and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, yet you never see any of them get up to go to the bathroom. Hmmm. So where do you think all that liquid is going . . . ?
(Just say no...)
4. "Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?"
Most people that get involved with endurance sports -- especially ultrarunning -- tend to be type-A personalities. Real go-getters. More is better, etc...
Look, I get it. I certainly fall into that category as well. But if you want to be in this sport with any degree of longevity -- and if you don't want your significant other to kill you -- I highly suggest obtaining a degree of balance in your daily life. When runners sign up with me, I tell all of them something along the lines of "I completely understand how you will have all sorts of questions and want to discuss all sorts of points, which is great. We all think about this sport a lot, and given the amount of time it takes to train to do well, that is only natural."
But while I encourage my runners to reach out to me as much as they possibly want, I think we all need to step away and think about/focus on other things in life. With my last 7 weeks, that was pretty easy for me, as I have a soon-to-be 3-year-old (Zoey) and a 16 month-old (Witt) who could give a shit about running. They just want to play with and be hugged by Mommy and Daddy. (The extent of Zoey's interest in my running right now is saying "Daddy went running. Daddy's sweaty. Daddy needs to take a shower!") :)
Personally, I am obviously very invested in the sport. I think it's the greatest sport around, and most of my very best friends in the world are people I've met through ultrarunning. But while ultrarunning is a big part of my life, it is just one aspect of what makes me "me."
If you want to be able to be an endurance runner for the long-term, listen to Mr. Miyagi. Balance is key :) Even while I was racing every weekend, once the race was over, I spent virtually no time thinking about the next race until I was actually standing at the start line the next weekend with a bib number on my shirt...
5. your body is talking to you. listen.
One of the main questions I've gotten over the past few months is how many miles I ran during the weeks in-between each race. Besides the "day-after" 2-3 mile shake-out "run" I mentioned above, the answer is "not very much . . . for me." During a usual training cycle, I run about 70 miles from Mon-Fri. During the past 7 weeks, I was lucky if I hit 20.
I have written about this potential pitfall of ultrarunning before, and I see it all the time in Zwitty runners. We have to beware of what I call the "Weekly Mileage Monster." People -- including me -- can get so wrapped up in the total weekly training mileage that we forget to listen to our bodies during our training, in lieu of racking up "junk miles" with little to no purpose behind them. ("Junk miles" are miles that are too slow to help increase our fitness/aerobic capacity, yet too fast to allow us to recover properly for the next "hard" workout. And this gray zone is where all too many ultrarunners run throughout their training.)
For the last 7 weeks, I ran when I felt like it, rested when I felt like it, and simply had the overriding goal to "feel as good as possible by race day." It is well-accepted in the running science community that you do not see the fitness benefits of any particular workout until about two weeks after that workout. In other words, there is about a two-week lag-time. So if you have races a few weeks apart, you can only make yourself more tired/sore for the next race. You will not increase your fitness level.
With that in mind, recovery must be paramount, and the Weekly Mileage Monster must be kept at bay.
6. we are all capable of so much more than we think, but it sure helps to keep perspective and be "real."
Okay, that title is a bit intrinsically contradictory. One of the main reasons I raced so much for two months was to raise my own personal "mental bar" as far as what my so-called "limits" were in my mind. Our sport is one of pushing limits and seeing just how far we can go; just how much we can do. So big goals and dreams should be lauded and encouraged, in my opinion.
At the same time, though, there are "big" goals that are possible (even if a bit far-fetched), and then there are "big" goals that are just pure fantasy. I have been in the sport of distance running for a long time. I have averaged over 80 miles a week of training consistently for about 15 years now. So I like to believe that I know my body. Yes, my 7-week schedule scared me, but I also thought I had a good chance of getting through it.
My goal, however, was not, "I'm going to run 7 consecutive 100-milers in under 12 hours each." No matter how much I could possibly "believe" in my ability, that shit just ain't happening. . .
So I guess what I'm saying is to dream big, but keep in mind that you are still an inhabitant of planet Earth.
(The Pearl Jam song "Given To Fly," while great, is metaphorical. You can run an ultra; yes, you are awesome and (almost) superhuman. But you're not from Krypton.)
7. have an alex in your corner.
This is probably the most-important pointer of all. If you are married or have a significant other, and he/she is not completely on-board with your goals and dreams in this sport, you will have a very tough road to hoe ahead of you. Without Alex by my side and supporting me, nothing about my schedule would have been possible, and -- to be perfectly frank -- would not have been worthwhile anyway. (This all ties in to the "balance" point above.)
For Alex and I, running has always been a connector between us, and is actually how we met (at a marathon training group back in 2008). I cannot see a way to have "running" and "family" separate in my life. There is a reason I named my coaching program "Zwitty" (Zoey + Witt). No matter what your situation, hopefully you have a support system like I do. It really makes all the difference for me!!
Hi, welcome to the Zwitty Ultra Endurance Coaching Program!