Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Conquering The Post-(Big) Race Blues

Having the right plan can help
to ward off those post-race blues.
"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The post-race blues are a real thing.  And the longer the preparation time and more significant the event the more dramatic these feelings tend to be.  There is a way, however, to minimize or even prevent the phenomena.  It can be done with just three steps.

Step #1: Own It.  Learn From It.  Move On.
Race performances are almost always viewed through the narrow prism of "success" or "failure".  And often the greater the sacrifices in pursuit of these outcomes, the more pronounced the emotions.  Both pride and regret require an incredible amount of energy to maintain and ultimately neither will serve you well going forward.  The first step to beating the post-(big) race blues is owning the performance, learning lessons from the experience, and then moving on.

Own It
No matter what the outcome was or how you got there, you must take personal responsibility for what happened.  Growth is only possible if you acknowledge that it is you, and you alone, that determines your fate.  

Learn From It
If (secretly) the reason we challenge ourselves is for the number of "Likes" on our social media accounts after the event, then we potentially miss out on an incredible opportunity to achieve higher levels of performance.  What we learn from these experiences is far more significant that what we achieve from them.  Kudos, PR's, and trophy's only serve to bolster our Ego and keep us idling in place.  But if we can learn from the experience then we grow.  And with growth there is development both as an athlete and as a person.  

Move On.
This is often just as difficult for the athlete that viewed the event as a "success" as for the athlete that viewed it as a "failure".  But once the lessons are learned and cataloged, both need to tie a bow on the race and move on.  The longer an athlete commits energy to maintain the emotions of the outcome (positive or negative), the more exaggerated the eventual post-(big) race blues will be.

Step #2:  Get Back To Activity
For the same reasons the taper caused feelings of restlessness, sleeplessness, and anxiety the post-race period has the potential to do the same.  See my recent article on tapering and endocannabinoids.  The sooner you can get back to being routinely physically active the sooner you'll be able to balance brain chemistry and start to feel like yourself again.  You don't have to be running to take advantage of the mental benefits of exercise.  In the week following the race choose cross- and complimentary-training activities that limit or avoid impact.  Examples include cycling and strength training.  Keep the consistency high but the intensity and duration relatively low.  

Step #3:  Create A New "Why"
For the last six months or more, every training session had a purpose.  As athletes we crave a "why" for our efforts.  It gives the tough training sessions more value and motivates us to push through fatigue, scheduling challenges, and discomfort.  After the big race has concluded the "why" fades away in the distance.  We find ourselves struggling to find motivation to do much of anything.  The last step in conquering the post-(big) race blues is finding your next "why".  This may be your next race but it may also be your next cycle of training.  Whatever it is, finding your next focus will help set your intrinsic cause and effect mindset toward action again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Do, Try, Skip: Foam Rolling, Group Exercise, Running Music

Do you need music to perform
at your best?
Photo: competitor RUNNING
This series is intended to provide an informative and entertaining look at common practices in endurance sports.  The views expressed here are my opinions based largely on a combination of professional experience as an exercise physiologist and personal experience as an endurance athlete.

Sports training practices change over time.  Looking back a generation (or more) some things seem preposterous now.  But in their day and time they might have been considered cutting edge.  This "Do, Try, Skip" series will look at current popular training practices and provide guidance based on science (if available) and personal experience.  Today we look at three popular training practices; foam rolling, group exercise, and listening to music while running.

Foam Rolling: DO
The practice of foam rolling is something many athletes (myself included) understand to be important but few consistently perform.  Interestingly, the technique may have originated as an inexpensive way for Broadway dancers to simulate deep tissue massage on tight aching muscles.  But the practice was undoubtedly popularized by National Academy of Sports Medicine founder and physical therapist Michael A. Clark.  Referred to as self-myofascial release stretching (SMFR) in his 2002 manual Optimal Performance Training for the Performance Enhancement Specialist the technique is defined as "the process of using bio-foam rollers and/or "The Stick" to improve soft-tissue extensibility".  This type of stretching utilizes the autogenic inhibition theory to correct length and tension imbalances of the muscles.  
Self-Myofascial Release of the TFL.

Autogenic Inhibition
The key to understanding how foam rolling works lies with muscle spindles and Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO).  Muscle spindles lie in parallel with muscle fibers and sense the rate and change of muscle lengthening.  When stimulated they may cause the muscle to contract resulting in "trigger points".  This can occur during times of sudden increases in training volume or new training loads (ie. change of surface or terrain).  A chronically shortened (ie. contracted) muscle not only may cause discomfort, but it is also less effective at producing force and may affect how the other soft-tissues nearby act.  

The GTO is a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ located within the junction between the muscle and the tendon and is highly sensitive to changes in tension and the rate of tension change.  When you use your body weight on the foam roller you are placing tension on the musculotendinous junction of that muscle and stimulating the GTO.  With enough stimulation, the GTO may "turn off" the muscle spindles causing the tight muscle to relax, unwind, or "unknot".  This occurs when the neural impulses sensing tension (from the foam roller) are greater than the impulses causing muscle tension (from the tight muscles).

So when and how do you use the foam roller?
Foam rolling should be seen as a form of stretching.  Specifically as a corrective flexibility modality.  When used to correct muscle imbalances (length & tension) it is best performed in both the pre- and post-workout periods.  To obtain the optimal benefit from the technique place a tolerable amount of body weight pressure on the "tender/trigger points" of the muscle and hold for approximately 30-90 seconds.  This provides adequate time for the GTO to begin to inhibit the target/offending muscle spindles.  It's worth noting that other devices may be used to perform the technique including a lacrosse ball, medicine ball, or other handheld devices.  

IMPORTANT NOTE:  While foam rolling is generally safe, it should not be performed by persons with heart failure, kidney failure, other organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin disorders.  If you have any doubt whether or not the practice would be safe and appropriate for you, check with your physician first. *From NASM

Group Exercise: TRY
There is little doubt that to improve sport-specific performance you must spend a considerable amount of time performing that sport.  However, the cumulative effects of repetitive movements patterns can result in overuse-associated soft-tissue breakdown and subsequent forced rest.  Two common ways of reducing the frequency and potential impact of repetitive movement patterns are cross-training (ie. cycling for runners and running for cyclists) and complimentary-training practices (ie. strength & mobility training).  While these activities are unquestionably important to the sustained health and performance of an endurance athlete, there are often barriers to participation.  One common barrier is the perception of lack of mastery.  None of us want to look or feel like we don't know what we are doing.  This may be the case for an endurance athlete not familiar with either cross-training or complimentary-training activities.  Here's where friendly and supportive instructor-led group exercise classes fill an incredibly important role.  

Spinning Bikes.
Group exercise can generally be categorized in one of four ways; aerobic, strength, bodymind, and specialty.  All have potential benefit to the endurance athlete.  Let's take a look and some common examples and how they might fit into an endurance training program.

Indoor Cycling (aka. Spinning)
Type: cross-training
Category:  aerobic

While it's always better to be outside rather than inside, indoor instructor led group cycling classes offer runners a non-impact alternative to their high impact sport.  

Type:  cross-training
Category: aerobic

This instructor-led group exercise format is a mix of boxing moves, martial arts, and aerobics that combine to provide a high-intensity training session and is great for cyclists as it gets them out of forward trunk/hip flexion and upright on their feet.  

Orangetheory Fitness®
Type:  cross-training & complimentary-training
Category: aerobic & strength

Led by qualified personal trainers this one hour exercise class uses heart rate to monitor high intensity interval training (aerobic & strength) giving users a targeted and effective training experience.  Because of the use of both aerobic activities (running, cycling, rowing) along with strength exercises it covers both the aerobic and strength categories. 

Type:  complimentary-training
Category:  bodymind

The spiritual element of yoga separates it from most other instructor-led group exercise activities.  And while the bodymind benefits are translatable to all endurance athletes, it's ability to improve mobility may be it's greatest physical benefit.  

Running Music: SKIP
What's a blog without occasionally dipping your toe into a heated debate once in a while?  I am well aware that many runners use music while running to help them either escape from the drudgery or motivate them to push harder.  Both of these rationales are valid yet they don't overcome the overwhelming negatives associated with the practice.  Listening to music while running is considered a dissociative behavior.  That is to say, it's a way to disconnect from the activity.  This disconnection is both mental and physical.  But being connected to the activity provides a wealth of important and immediate feedback that helps to assure the activity is both safe and effective.

Whether on or off-road you are likely to be sharing space with other people.  These people are typically traveling by vehicle, bicycle, or on foot.  In each case there may be a need for you to yield the right of way.  When being approached from behind it is very difficult for you to be fully aware of your surroundings while listening to music.  Portable music devices today are typically quite inconspicuous and may not be noticeable to others around you.  This could lead to a dangerous scenario of an overtaking motorist (on road) or cyclist (on trail) attempting to signal their intent to you but to no avail.  

Your ears provide important feedback while running.  Running economy may be improved, in part, by soft quiet foot strikes.  Listening to music while running makes it impossible to gain this valuable feedback.  Lastly, many running events either discourage or prohibit the use of headphones due to liability concerns.  If you are conditioned to listening to music in training to help you "get through the tough times", you may be at a distinct disadvantage without it during a race.  

Let me be clear, there is a difference between listening to music while running outside versus listening to music while running inside on a treadmill.  Running inside on a treadmill is drudgery and anything you can do to take your mind off of the activity is probably helpful.  Just make sure the music you've selected doesn't get you so fired up that you miss the objective of the workout (ie. easy on easy days or target effort).  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Why The Finish Line Isn't The End

A well constructed recovery plan
will help you get back to training
safely, effectively, and efficiently.
"The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race."  ~Anonymous

Most training plans are filled will intricate details of distances and pace targets that culminate with an event.  Yet what you do in the seventy-two hours following an event of marathon distance or greater plays a large role in how safely, effectively, and efficiently you are able to return to training.  Endurance athletes tend to have busy race schedules.  It's not unusual for some to have multiple events of marathon distance or greater planned in the same calendar year.  This ambitious race schedule not only places a tremendous emphasis on preparation but also recovery.  Here are the essential elements of a post-event recovery protocol;

Immediate Post-Race
They've hung the medal around your neck, you've visited with family and friends, and now you finally have a chance to sit down.  Take a deep breath.  While the race may be over, the event still has one last critical element to execute...the recovery.  

Once a race has finished the top three immediate recovery priorities are hydration, glycogen replenishment, and tending to minor medical needs.  The most effective way to re-hydrate is with an cold isotonic solution.  The amount is generally commensurate with the length of time and type of environment to which you were exposed.  A good place to start is with 20-24 ounces of this type of fluid.  Be cautious not to over-consume before you've tended to the second priority; glycogen replenishment.  The most effective way to replenishment glycogen following a glycogen-depleting activity is to consume a beverage containing a ratio of carbohydrates and proteins tailored to your individual needs within an hour of the event.  Finally, before you leave the venue make sure to tend to minor medical needs.  Commonly these involve the skin which is not only the largest, but also the most vulnerable, organ of the body and subject to integrity issues (ie. blisters, chaffing, etc).  

Post-Race Evening
Now that you're home and showered there are five things to do before your head hits the pillow for some well earned rest.  

1.)  Respect Food Cravings
Your body has a unique ability to signal which nutrients it needs through food cravings.  This is particularly true following an exhaustive event.  Listen to these cravings and follow their lead.  

2.)  Hydrate
Although it will likely result in you getting up multiple times during the night, continue your hydration plan.  Your objective is to return your urine to a pale yellow color.  It's worth noting, clear urine may be an indication that you have over consumed and potentially have placed yourself in jeopardy of electrolyte disturbances.  Pale yellow is best. 

3.)  Eat A High Performance Meal
Item #1 notwithstanding, the majority of calories consumed should be from healthy proteins and fats.  These nutrients accelerate skeletal muscle repair and assist in the regeneration of key hormones.  As much as possible attempt to limit simple sugars (ie. high fructose corn syrup) as they may contribute to inflammation during a time in which you are attempting to reduce activity-associated inflammation.  

4.)  Boost HGH To Aid Recovery
Consuming a serving of whey protein (mixed with water) within thirty minutes of bed time may enhance human growth hormone (HGH) levels.  HGH may aid in skeletal muscle repair of which you are going to need to do.  

5.)  Get To Bed Early
Although not always practical, it is good practice to get bed an hour earlier than usual.  Physiologic recovery occurs during rest.  Multiple factors may disrupt your sleep pattern following an exhaustive bout of physical activity so it's important to realize that even though you may have a hard time falling and staying asleep, as long as you are laying down you are resting and recovering.

The Next 72 Hours
Despite how you feel when you go down stairs, you are now well on your way to safe, effective, and efficient recovery.  But it's far from over.  The next three days are incredibly important.  Here are the items to focus on;

Physical Practices
1.)  No running for one (1) day for every ten (10) miles raced.  
2.)  Perform a 10-20 minute "active recovery" walk each day.
3.)  Follow that walk with some gentle mobility exercises.
4.)  Continue to get to bed an hour early each night.  

Nutritional Practices
1.)  Increase healthy protein intake in order to provide your body with the building blocks it needs to continue with skeletal muscle restoration.
2.)  Consume healthy fats to continue assist in the regeneration of key hormones.
3.)  Continue to hydrate to a pale yellow urine.  
4.)  Continue to consume a serving of whey protein (mixed with water) thirty minutes before bed.

After the 72 hour post-event period you should be feeling well on your way to completely recovered.  While you follow the "10 Mile Rule", consider adding some non-impact "active recovery" cross-training modalities to slowly increase your activity level and to mitigate significant alterations in form (ie. becoming stale).   

A professional endurance coach can not only provide specific details with respect to the recovery protocols listed above but can also provide guidance with regard to resumption of sport-specific training.