Run More and Recover Better

IMG_2443Here’s a question from our Academy Facebook group:

“Ran my first marathon yesterday at the Dallas Marathon. One thought I had often “how the heck does Angie do back to back marathons without falling apart?!” –Ashley

First of all a big congratulations goes out to Ashley for running her first marathon! I certainly wasn’t thinking about running multiple marathons before or during my first marathon in 2008. It was just one of those big challenges that I had to do.

At the time I didn’t have any friends who were runners and didn’t know anyone personally who’d ever run a marathon. Despite making lots of mistakes in training I crossed the finish line in 4:10 and knew that I’d run another marathon.

However, ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) forced me to lay off running for the next several months. But I knew that I’d learn from my mistakes and come back stronger. I recovered properly, trained smarter and ran a marathon in 2009 breaking four hours. From there it was a process of learning more, setting bigger goals and running more marathons.

Now I’ve run 29 marathons and know that there are many, many more in my future. Here are my tips for running more and recovering more quickly whether your goal is to run more 5ks or marathons:

Run More and Recover Better

Be patient with the process.

When I first started marathon training I could only run 3 days per week to avoid injury. It’s been a process of years to build up to the place where I can run 5 days per week (or actually every day since I’ve been doing a run streak since Thanksgiving).

If you try to do too much too soon it can be a recipe for injury and burnout. If you’re a new runner or coming back from injury or have recently had a baby be sure to set incremental goals and train smart. Find a good training plan, join the Academy or consider coaching to help you build up safely.

Cross training is a must.

For the injury-prone runner like myself I’ve found that focused cross training is essential. I do yoga 2-3 times per week to stay strong, balanced and flexible. The great thing about yoga is that it allows greater body intelligence.

  • For example, I know that my left hamstring is tighter than my right, I have more flexibility in my left hip and I have better balance on my right side. The yoga I do also includes strength and core training like planks to build up those important muscles that do so much to support your running.

There are many different low impact cross training activities that work well with running like cycling, swimming, rowing, Pilates, and strength training. I’ve found that in general, high impact activities combined with long distance running can often lead to injuries so it’s important to listen to your body with the exercises you choose.

Intensity matters.

I discovered heart rate training around 18 months ago and it’s changed my training for the better. Before that I was like many runners who just ran at nearly the same pace and intensity every time. My “easy” runs weren’t easy enough to purposefully allow the body time for recovery. Now I do all my easy runs in Zone 2 and it’s helped me recover more quickly and have more intensity on the days when I need it. All you need is a GPS watch and heart rate monitor to get started. I use the Maffetone Method to calculate Zone 2.

Choose the appropriate goals.

Make sure that you’re building up to your goals incrementally. It’s also not wise to schedule multiple races and expect to run them all at full intensity. If you want to run multiple marathons be sure that many of them are done at an easier pace with 2-3 goal races each year. It’s rare to be able to achieve quality and quantity at the same time. For example, I had what I’d consider one great finish time this year—my BQ in July. The other seven marathons I ran were at an easier effort (6-sub 4:00, 1- 4:30).

Don’t ignore the little issues.

Runners are infamous for ignoring aches and pain until they become something more. Tune into your body and address little problems early, before they turn into a full-blown monster injury that impacts your running. If you feel that nagging tightness or minor pain be sure to figure out what’s going on quickly.

It may be that adding some strength work, stretching, foam rolling, cold therapy, compression, changing shoes, taking Epsom salt baths, and certain supplements (Tissue Rejuvinator) may be sufficient to address it. If your home efforts aren’t effective seek the advice of a medical professional early. It could be that a few sessions of physical therapy will get you on the road to recovery.

Dial in your nutrition.

I don’t think there’s a one-size fits all dietary approach. But there are some general things you can do that will greatly improve your running and overall health. The biggest thing that’s helped me has been to greatly reduce my simple sugar consumption. Not only does sugar cause inflammation in the body which lengthens your recovery time, it also negatively impacts the immune system and can lead to unwanted weight gain.

It’s also important to eat as many vegetables as possible. Aim to fill your plate with 50% veggies and work on trying new ones and ways to prepare them. Fresh fruit can make an awesome dessert or post-workout snack. Drink more water too. Staying hydrated is so important to promoting health body systems. Make it a priority to cut back on other drinks and add more water in the New Year.

Make Rest a Priority.

Schedule in regular rest days or take them as needed. Overtraining is a deep hole that runners often dig for themselves and it’s hard to reach your running goals if you’re overtired. Be sure to focus on getting quality sleep at night. We actually did a whole podcast about getting quality sleep during your marathon training.

Most of us don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep. There are some big and little steps that you can take to get better sleep: develop a sleep routine which includes sleeping in a dark room, keeping the temperature cool, block outside noise or use a sound machine to control the noise, limit screen time at least 1 hour before bed, avoid caffeine after 4pm, and consider taking magnesium in the evening to bring about a calming state.

You can take your running to the next level in 2015 by being focused, intentional, and working smart.

2 Responses to Run More and Recover Better

  1. Richard Slater December 30, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    Hi Angie and Trevor,

    I have been listening to your podcast for several months, but this is my first visit to your website in all that time I’m afraid – I wanted to check out the photo of you two up the Willis Tower!
    I noticed in the above post that you suffered from ITBS a few years ago. I am a keen runner, but my training and racing has also been hindered by ITBS/moderate knee pain. I wondered whether you would have any advice as to how to overcome these particular ailments?


    Richard Slater

    • Angie Spencer December 30, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for being a faithful listener and coming over to the blog. I have struggled with ITBS in the past and I found several things to be very helpful for my recovery:

      1) Alternating my running days with low impact cross training like cycling, swimming, yoga, etc. 2) Doing daily stretches targeted at the IT band. 3) Using a firm foam roller to loosen up the adhesions that form in the IT band. 4) Reducing sugar in my diet to decrease inflammation and speed healing. 5) Make sure that your running shoes aren’t too old and are appropriate for your foot and gait. 6) Taking Tissue Rejuvinator from Hammer Nutrition to help overcome some of the discomfort and further decrease inflammation.

      I hope that helps and that 2015 is a year full of healthy and happy running!


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