R+R: Sage Advice

Sage and her smile rocking the course at the Big Sur Marathon this year.

As you probably know, I'm a huge fan of Sage Rountree. I love The Athlete's Guide to Yoga, her DVD. (I am especially grateful for the IT Band flow series on it). I love that, during a recent conversation I had with her, she was talking up the merits of running watchless. (Not just Garmin-less, but no data, period.) Her strategy for the 2011 Big Sur Marathon, where her wrists were noticeably bare? For the first half, she asked herself, am I going slow enough?; during the second half, she flipped it: can I go faster? Now that's a pacing strategy I can get behind.

I also love her new book The Athlete's Guide to Recovery: Rest, Relax, and Restore for Peak Performance, which is devoted completely to giving your body a break so that it can give you the best. When you only have a short window, from say, 5:30-6:30 in the morning, it's so easy to get focused solely on getting in your run, but that go-run-go-run strategy, without a recovery period, isn't the smartest idea, as Sage explains in this Q+A:

Q: What is recovery: is it total rest, going to a yoga class, taking a walk or just scaling back your normal run?
A: Recovery is giving your body the time to do what it does best: change, to adapt to the training you've done. That can mean total rest, but it can also mean gentle yoga or light aerobic exercise. Recovery needs to be cyclical, with relatively lighter periods each day, each week, each month, and each year.

Q: You say that most athletes aren't overtrained, but underrested. This obviously applies to moms, especially new moms, right?
A: True overtraining syndrome is a very serious medical condition. Most of us—especially new mothers—are simply doing too much relative to what we are able to absorb. It’s during rest that we adapt to the stress of training. If we don’t have enough rest, we don’t improve. Those of us who are spread thin don’t get enough time to recover relative to the work we’re doing, and performance suffers.

Q: In a perfect world, how much sleep would you recommend for an active, running mom?
A: I like the rule of thumb that you should add to your usual seven- to nine-hour nightly requirement (yes, seven to nine hours!) X minutes per night, where X is the amount of miles you’re running weekly. Thus someone running 30 miles a week should add a half hour to her nightly sleep, or take a nap to make up the difference.

Q: How much does nutrition play into recovery?
A: Nutrition is extremely important for recovery. You need to eat a well-balanced, varied diet so that your body has the nutrients it needs to rebuild itself. You also need to manage your nutrition before, during, and after workouts so that you don’t create a deficit that would be hard to overcome.

The recovery snack plays into this, as well. We hear talk about those first thirty minutes after a workout being the “glycogen window,” in which we should get in a snack--and if you miss it, you're in trouble. In fact, that window is broader and doesn’t slam shut after thirty minutes, but the message is a good one: take in a small snack (around 150–200 calories, mostly carbs) after a long or hard workout, and you’ll be less depleted and less likely to find yourself craving a scone later that day. This snack could be a sports drink, a smoothie, yogurt with nuts, half a bagel with almond butter, or something similar.

A book that celebrates downtime. What's not to love?

Q: If you had to recommend just one piece of recovery equipment for moms, what would it be?
A: A bed!

Beyond that, the foam roller can be helpful to work out the kinks. You can use a roller; a fancy device like Trigger Point Therapies or the Stick; a ball; or even a rolling pin to make a few passes over the major muscle groups of your legs. This can help keep your muscles in better shape by preventing adhesions in the connective tissue that surrounds and permeates them.

Q: Is there a way to know when you’ve done a good job on recovery?
A: When you’re recovering right, your performance will improve. You’ll probably also feel springy, optimistic, and ready to work, but that’s specific to the individual. Performance is an objective indicator of recovery. Trust it. When you don’t see improvement, or you find you’re slowing down, check your log or mentally review what you've done lately. If you’re working hard on your hard days, you may need to include more easy days between and to focus on nutrition and sleep. Adding this attention to recovery can make all the difference.

Q: What was one fact/aspect about recovery that surprised you most when you wrote the book?
A: I’m constantly surprised that we need to “sell” recovery! You’d think that not training too much would be the simplest thing on earth, but for type-A endurance athletes, it’s very hard to let go. Instead, folks try to control their performance by doing more and more, when doing less would actually take them further. It requires a leap of faith, much like running only 20 miles before your marathon does. Trust that it will work, and you’ll learn in time that it does.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect for you personally to embrace about recovery?
A: It’s still hard for me to take the time for recovery after a big race. When you’ve had a peak event, you’re usually on an emotional high, and when that fades you’re left craving endorphins and afraid of losing fitness. Or, if the race didn’t go as planned, you’re out for redemption. Either way, it’s tempting to return to concerted training too soon. But that fallow period of doing no or only easy workouts—a week or two after a half marathon, two or three after a full—is critical for deep cellular recovery, and ultimately for mental recovery, too.

Want more wisdom from the aptly-named Sage? We're giving away five copies of her new recovery book to five random readers. All you have to do is answer this Q for you: Do you make a conscious effort at recovery, or is that not in your mentality--or schedule?


156 responses to “R+R: Sage Advice

  1. I definitely make an effort, and have been pleasantly surprised how much better my running is since I added in a short and slow recovery run once a week. On that note…off to bed!

  2. I could definitely work on incorporating recovery better into my schedule. I’ve noticed that when I am planning on a longer weekend run, I feel much better during the run if I rest my legs for at least a day or two before the run. However, it’s tricky to skip working out and I usually feel guilty for taking a couple of days off. I think incorporating yoga and stretching on the recovery days would be a much better compromise. I’m finding that I am a bit of a cardio addict and I’m trying to incorporate other forms of fitness regularly. Running is awesome and makes me feel great, but to keep it fun and fresh I know I need to alternate activities. Still working on that…

  3. I do a lot of cross training: swimming, rowing, cycling, which I consider active recovery. I do long workouts or a long run on weekends and make sure to fit in a couple of naps to get more rest.

  4. Just recently started running again and trying to be conscious of recovery, not always sure what to do though. This was great and I would love a copy of the book!

  5. After a race, I try to get in a few extra days of yoga and ease off on the running for about a week.
    On a weekly basis, I try to get 2-3 longer yoga sessions in, and I stretch after each run.
    I also take a rest day at least once each week.

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