As a Distance Education Coordinator for Professional and Continuing Studies here at UAH, part of my job is to record classes being taught, edit the lecture videos, make html pages and build the classes online using our learning tool called Angel. Most of the classes I build and facilitate are engineering courses, but the Health and Physical Ed (HPE) department is also part of ours, so I have the pleasure of recording these classes as well. And let me just say I have learned a TON!
I get to know the instructors as we work together to get everything just so for their online course, and after each class, I wander out of my little recording studio and ask questions pertaining to the lesson they just taught. The class I am currently recording is called Nutrition for Fitness and Sport and it is being taught by a guy named Jeff Kinard. This HPE class is a little different from the others I have recorded because there are no students in the classroom. Its just me in the studio, and Jeff teaching. Each chapter takes about 30 minutes for him to teach, and the entire time I sit there like his only student and take notes. Not only do I want to know this information for myself, I also want to know it for No Boundaries and my future running clients. I will officially "take" this course when it is up and running, but for now I am just soaking up all the information.
He started with an overview and energy metabolism and then moved on to carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Each set of charts shows exactly how the body is using each nutrient, what it does with it, and how all of these processes work together to create energy, allowing athletes to train, improve, and compete. Now, a lot of this I knew - but only on a surface level. I knew I needed carbohydrates as fuel, but I did not know all the particulars of what went on in my body when I gave it these carbs. As a runner, I have read and heard so much about eating, nutrition, energy and so forth that sometimes I'm not quite sure what I believe. Eventually I discover what works for me (or what I decide works for me) and I go with that. But really knowing what is going on in my body and understanding how it produces and uses energy... well, that could be huge! It could have a major impact on my training and performance.
I see this already with rest and recovery. I made some decisions this week after my marathon that I don't think I would have made if I had not been recording Sports Nutrition. I made the decision to allow my muscles to heal before pushing them forward with my ultra training. And here's why.
I'm going to admit something here and I'm a little embarrassed. Having been a runner for over 16 years, I feel like I should have known this. I always thought that sore muscles meant I had lactic acid buildup in them. As long as they were sore, it was still there. When they felt better, that meant it was gone. As a result, whenever I was sore, I thought I should force myself to jog or run because that would get my blood flowing and would flush out that lactic acid.
The truth is, having extra lactic means the athlete exceeded their lactic threshold, which is how fast the body can break it down and use it as it is being produced. It is almost as if I said, drink this water as fast as you can and put a water hose into your cup. There would be no way you could drink it as fast as I was pouring it in (Jeff's analogy). However, with the body, it keeps breaking down the lactic acid until it is all gone. It doesn't stop just because I produced it at a faster rate than I could break it down. So when I stop running, my body continues breaking it down until it has used all I have produced. Then it is gone. Probably within the hour.
Sore muscles, then, are a result of all the contracting and use I just put them through (and if you are saying, "Well, duh, Jane" I don't blame you). They are sore because fibers are damaged and inflamed. That means they need to heal. Jeff said in some cases, muscles can use the healthy fibers while the damaged ones heal, but when you feel pain, that means the damaged fibers are being used. So if I go for a run and my quads are so sore they hurt the entire way, that means I am using the damaged muscle fibers to do the work. And when I am using them, they are not healing - they are surviving.
I asked Jeff how to get them to heal and he had one word. Rest. Not only does rest help them heal and quit hurting, it allows them to grow stronger from the exertion that damaged them. He used another analogy. Say I take a hammer and hit a wall so that it begins to break. An engineer comes along and says, "Oh, you want to hit that wall with a hammer? We need to make it stronger then." So they find stronger material that can withstand my hammer blows, and begin to rebuild the wall. If I continue hitting the wall while they are trying to rebuild it, I'm going to hold up progress. My muscles are that wall. They say, "Oh, you want to run 26 miles? We are going to need to be stronger (which was also explained to me, and I will attempt to explain that later), and so they begin to recruit all the help they need to allow me to run 26 miles. But if I take these legs out for a jog two days after my marathon, while they are trying to heal... I am slowing progress.
That does not necessarily mean that no pain signals full recovery, but it does mean I can begin using those muscles again. Also, just because I'm not going to run while they recover does not mean I have to sit around all day. Using the muscles produces heat and blood flow which takes oxygen to those muscles, which is what they need to heal. But I can do that with a gentle walk through the neighborhood. It also does not necessarily mean going for a jog so close to completing a marathon is a bad idea. I think each individual's body will tell them if they listen.
And that right there is the key. If they listen. One thing Jeff said about runners is that we will run through all sorts of injury and pain because we want to run, we love to run, we are addicted. He said it would be easier to ask his cross country runners to run through a stress fracture than it would be to ask them to rest and take some time off. He described the looks of horror on their faces when those words are mentioned and as he spoke I sort of grinned. Sheepishly. I didn't like that he was right, but I could see exactly what he was saying. How many times have I complained about resting? Tapering? Time off? What are my greatest fears? Injury. Stress fracture. Time off. Those words, "You can't run." I can almost hear the scary music playing in the background. And it isn't just me. I see facebook posts, twitter posts, I read blog posts and I've heard my running friends say the same things. They will drag their tired muscles, sore knees and blistered feet to the gym, to the trail, down the road...
Now, that does not mean I'm going to change. I'm still going to run most days. I do love it. I love everything about it and if you have read this blog, you know why. But I also want to be smart. I want to be able to step away when I need to step away. I don't want to fear the future, life changes, old age, etc. because it might have an impact on my running. I don't want to drag my aching legs for 4 painful miles because I think I should. Sure I want to train hard. I want to improve. I want to run faster and farther. But I want to be healthy too. I want to be reasonable - as much a runner can be. I want a balance. That is why I think it is important to know what is going on in my body as I train and compete and run and refuel. Resting now could not only mean I allow damaged muscles to heal and avoid injury, it may also mean better training runs which translate into better performance come race day.
So here's my challenge. I challenge you to rest. Not slack. Rest. That can mean going for a stroll on a gorgeous fall day, or putting your feet up and watching your favorite TV show on Netflix. Reading a book with a cup of coffee. Holding that sleeping child just a little longer. Choosing dinner with a friend instead of another 5 miles. This is my challenge as well. And who knows. This could be one of the most powerful workouts we use in our training.