My running, resting and recovery

Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.

How do you find recovery from all your running? Do you nap?
How many hours do you sleep? How do you cope with less?
How do you keep your energy at such a high level?
Where do you get your energy?

As you can see from the questions above, this post actually answers a number of questions I received in last year’s survey. I don’t talk a huge amount about my running on the blog here, but it appears there is interest in it!

My running history

I think it is important to share some background first in terms of my exercise history as I haven’t always managed it the best. In my first few years of running I had a number of injuries. These were caused by a combination of factors:

  • Novice runner mistakes – running too far, too fast, too soon for what my body was ready for
  • Running too often and without a personalised training plan
  • Not enough sleep to allow my body to recover between sessions

It really took me a number of years to work this out. It took so long partly because I enjoyed what I was doing and wanted to get better at it. It is pretty common to think that to get better at something, you just need to do it more. That isn’t always the case as I can tell you from suffering from a fractured pelvis, ITB and plantar fasciitis in a relatively short period of time.

Four years ago, I would have been super proud to tell you that I exercised everyday. As I started extending my long run on the weekend, I realised that I did need a day to rest, so would have one day a week off. My running training though was still being planned by me and while I am good at planning, I knew very little about mixing up my training and periodisation.

I found CrossFit at the end of 2012 when I was injured with my fracture (you can read about that here) and loved it instantly. The coaches were great and would modify movements so I could still work out and I started to get much stronger which had the two fold effect of helping my running and preventing injury.

However my love of CrossFit meant that I was now squeezing running and CrossFit into my exercise week. I did somehow manage to do this and run my first marathon at the end of 2013.  I ran two marathons in 2014 and by the end of that year I was pretty shattered. I had qualified for the Boston Marathon and realised that if I wanted to have good crack at it, something would have to give. Like other aspects of my life, if I had a goal I wanted to achieve, I wasn’t going to be able to do everything, I had to make choices.

My CrossFit coach was brilliant and wrote me a running program that incorporated strength sessions I could do during class time, so I could still see my CrossFit friends even though I wasn’t doing the classes. While I was training six days a week, the plan had a mix of tempo, recovery, interval and easy, medium or hard runs so it wasn’t as punishing on my body and it allowed me to recover between workouts.

I successfully ran the Boston marathon and it is still such a highlight of my running life (you can read about that here) but most importantly it taught me a great deal about training and recovery. The amount of running and exercise I do now varies depending on my goals.

Last year I focused on Spartan Races which I loved with the pinnacle being the Bright Trifecta where I needed to complete a 14km obstacle race at 6.30am Saturday, then the 7km race at 10.00am Saturday and then the 21km race at 6.30am Sunday (you can read about that here). To help me train properly for this event, I had a specific training program written up for me.

This year I plan to run one marathon, which I am currently training for. My exercise currently looks something like this:

  • Monday – Running and CrossFit
  • Tuesday – CrossFit
  • Wednesday – Running and CrossFit
  • Thursday – Yin Yoga (active recovery)
  • Friday – Running and CrossFit
  • Saturday – Running
  • Sunday – Rest

On days were I exercise I am generally up at 5am, some mornings earlier if I am fitting my run in before CrossFit.

I work out at CrossFit Box Hill and can highly recommend it. Coaching staff are fantastic and I have met some of the best people, the community is welcoming and supportive.

How do you find recovery from all your running? Do you nap?

So far this year I think I have had three naps, all of which would have been in the last six weeks. This correlates with the increase in my mileage with running. The naps have been 30 minutes or less, but they still make a huge difference to how I feel. Ideally I would rather have more sleep over night, but with outside commitments like school meeting etc, it is not always possible, so a nap in the afternoon can really save the day.

With the start of the school year being full of meetings, I have been getting to bed on average about 30 minutes later than is ideal and there are certainly days when I can feel the tiredness on my runs. As I wrote in my monthly review for February, this time will pass and I have noticed a difference already over the last week.

I do try to prioritise my sleep. I avoid organising catch ups with friends in the evening during the week. I prefer to catch up during the day and many of the catch ups involve a walk and then something delicious to eat at a cafe. For me, my wake up time is the non negotiable, so I try to work around it as much as I can.

I do take a few supplements (this is not health advice, just what I am doing 🙂 ). I have been taking magnesium orally for a number of years. There are many benefits to taking magnesium but I take it for recovery and to improve sleep quality. Recently I have also started using magnesium topically as well and have found great results. You can read more about magnesium here. I also take Vitamin C to help with energy levels and fatigue. You can read more about Vitamin C here. And finally I also take a Omega 3 Fish Oil and you can read the benefits of this supplement here.

Mobility and stretching is super important and I have to be honest and say I don’t do as much as this as I should, but it is something I am working on. I am currently doing a series of small exercises to keep injury at bay at the moment.

When my training ramps up, I will also get a remedial massage on a regular basis. I used to think this was self indulgent and expensive. But once you get an injury that could have been prevented and you have to pay for rehabilitation, you realise it isn’t!

How many hours do you sleep? How do you cope with less?

I have been tracking my sleep for over a year now with the Sleep Cycle App. Why bother using an app to track your sleep I hear you ask? Sleep is so pivotal to recovery and as management consultant Peter Drucker notes “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

The Sleep Cycle app not only measures how long I sleep for, but also the quality of my sleep. The quality of sleep can be impacted by many things, so each night as I set my alarm with the app, I note anything which may have affected my sleep eg, being on the computer, stressful day, etc. and you can start to see trends on what has a positive or negative impact on your sleep.

When you set the Sleep Cycle app alarm, you are actually setting it for a 30 minute period. The app monitors when you are in deep and light sleep and tries to wake you when you are in the lighter stages of sleep. This does mean that while I have set my alarm for 5.00am, it might actually wake me up at 4.40am. I know this can seem a little crazy, but you actually feel better if you wake up from a lighter sleep state, rather than a deep sleep state. You can read more about it here.

My app tells me that over the last six months I have averaged 7 hours and 10 minutes sleep. This is slightly less than the Australian average.

time in bed

It is important to consider sleep quality and not just how you sleep for though. This takes into account how much deep sleep you are getting over night. It is in the deep sleep stages where my body can recover from all the exercise I do.

Sleep quality

69% isn’t fabulous for sleep quality, it would certainly improve somewhat if I slept longer. You can see in January when I was on holidays and slept more, my sleep quality increased to 75% – love holidays!   But there are many other factors that can improve sleep quality – no screens at night, no alcohol, no stress, dark room, cool room etc, all of which I do consider and work on.

I can generally cope pretty well if I get anywhere from 6:30 – 7:00 hours sleep. Under the 6:30 mark and I do really feel it. I find focusing harder, I am not as patient, the day seems to go on forever and I want to eat more. I have a few coping strategies to help me make it through these days:

  • To do listmy to do list process has me write a master list each Sunday night, then each night before I go to bed, I write what my key tasks are going to be for the day. By having these written down, I don’t have to think about or make a decision about it in the morning, I can just start doing. Without the list it is so easy to procrastinate or just do easy work when you are tired.
  • Prepared meals – I make a majority of my meals on the weekends, so I pretty much know what I am going to eat each day. Again by planning this out, I have taken the thinking out of it and I don’t end up making poorer choices when I am tired.
  • Drink water – water is amazing and I make sure I drink more water on days when I am running on less sleep. “Researchers found that dehydration was associated with negative mood, including fatigue and confusion, compared to the hydrated group. The level of mild dehydration (losses of between 1% and 2%) experienced among study participants is comparable to the mild dehydration some people experience in their daily lives from drinking insufficient amounts of water. {source}”
  • Stay active –  on days when I haven’t slept enough, I try to be active. For example, I still do the walk to school, even though I may not feel like it, because getting out in the fresh air and getting moving actually makes me feel better.

 How do you keep your energy at such a high level?

I think there are two key reasons I can keep my energy levels high:

  • Eating well – I have come a very long way in terms of how I eat and how I view eating. I now know that if I want my body to do all the exercise I want it to do, I need to feed it well. I eat a lot! But I eat a lot of wholefoods and I am mindful about the foods I eat. Prepping my food each weekend while it takes some time, is essential to making sure I eat well through the week.
  • Attitude – Somedays I do wake up feeling tired and really don’t want to get up and run. I do know from years of practice, that I will feel better after I do it and the hardest part is just starting. So I get up and I get going. I have also learnt that constantly telling myself I am tired and dwelling on lack of sleep doesn’t help. I choose to get up and exercise each morning, so I embrace this choice with a positive attitude. There are many days in my gratitude journal where I will be grateful that my body does what it does, I am grateful that I can run, can CrossFit and can test myself.

There are the occasional days though, where I feel flat and low energy. If possible, on these days I will try to have a nap or just let things go and head off to bed super early (8.30pm!) that night. Because I have an organised base to work from, the whole world doesn’t fall apart if I go to bed one night without doing my usual stuff, but I will be a much better person the next morning for getting the extra sleep.

What about you? How do you rest and recover?