Ahhhhh yes, recovery. That week where training volume is decreased to allow my body to build up stronger than it was before so it can handle an even greater training load the next time. That week where my hunger levels and need for edible substance skyrockets. That week where my body wants to sleep, nap, and do as little as possible.
That week where I let it.
The human body is an incredibly responsive, incredibly adaptable, organism. However, in order for it to be that incredibly responsive, incredibly adaptable, (healthy) organism, we have to give it a break every once in a while and cave in to what it is telling us. Not what you want, but what your body is telling you that it needs.
The harder you work out, the harder you exercise, the harder you train, the harder you have to recover; the more important it becomes and the greater the value it serves. Recovery is a hard thing for people to master – and I’ll admit, it took me quite a few years before I finally was able to fully embrace recovery periods, properly incorporating them, and the power they hold.
When I arrived home after work Monday afternoon, and my body was hungry, I didn’t resist my urge to eat. I poured a bowl of cereal. And then I had ice cream. And then another bowl of cereal. Not the best options, I admit, and I usually do a bit better, but I wasn’t concerned with that at this point. I had a big dinner of chicken, potatoes, carrots, and rice – with lots of water to wash it down – to cap off my day, and I went to bed at 7:30pm feeling quite full – something I usually don’t like to do during my regular training weeks. Now it was time for the real work to begin. My body had from 7:30pm to 3:00am to put everything I had consumed to use – building, repairing, strengthening. If I hadn’t consumed enough, it would start to use those very things I am trying to strengthen and adapt – my muscles! – to use as fuel for these metabolic processes. Obviously, that is not what we want. That is exactly what we DO NOT want!!
When we sleep, the great, wonderful, magnificent process of repair begins. Sleep allows our body to work on repair without the distractions of our waking cycle. This is why sleep is an impertinent part of our life – and training plan. I just came off an extended build cycle, with three weeks in a row of heavy lifting, high-volume, and higher-intensity training. You better believe some repair and restoration was necessary. When I get a craving for food, or start to feel hungry, it is my body’s way of informing me that it needs fuel – and fast – so I better consume something quick to digest so repair can continue, continue properly and continue adequately. A short while later, when my head begins to nod and the energy I exhibit begins to fade, I know that it is time for the ultimate part of the process to get underway: sleep! I’ve fueled up, now it’s time to work (from the metabolic and muscle repair standpoint).
I awoke Tuesday morning still feeling a bit sluggish, tired, and fatigued – similar to the way I felt when I woke up Monday morning. I was still hungry – but not as much – and my food choices were improved. This is typical of how I respond during recovery weeks, and it signals to me that my body is indeed recovering. When my alarm went off this morning (Wednesday) and I opened my eyes, I was ready to roll. My body is recovering with a bang! Now, this does not mean I can skip the rest of my recovery week because “I’m feeling better, I’m feeling stronger”. Au contraire – that is exactly what I should not do. Now that the outward processes are (for the most part) restored, there is still work to be done on the inside. The body cannot take a beating for a few weeks and recover – adequately and completely – in just three days. Besides, I am also not ready to get back to the tough stuff from a mental standpoint – my mind just does not want to get prepped for another speed session, another heavy lifting day, another session of race-pace intervals on the bike, or another dip in the pool. No. No way. This is where one of the most important aspects of recovery is found – an aspect that we all too often ignore. My mind is giving me these signals because the rest of my body is still not ready to take on these challenges; it is telling me to back off and let it do the work it needs, so that next week, when it’s time to get back at it again, I will be completely ready. Mentally and physically.
A large part of endurance training resides in our minds, so we need to give our brain a break, too. Recovery week is a great time to unplug a bit more, relax a bit more, reflect inward, and just relax. We need all of these things – regardless of training or work out level – to keep functioning in a healthy manner every day. So that is what I am doing this week: eating, sleeping, and rebuilding. Because next week, we begin again! And I want to be ready. I WILL be ready.