Ultramarathon Race Recovery – Weekly Recap 9.20.20

This week involved a lot of ultramarathon race recovery. I’ve always heard how ultramarathons are so different from road races, and race recovery is no exception to this rule. For my first 50k a few years ago, I honestly wasn’t prepared for what race recovery would look like, and I approached it the same way I did for marathon races. While there weren’t any significant negative consequences, I’m glad I have more of an understanding of how differently ultramarathons affect your body now. I want to share a few ways that ultramarathon recovery is unlike marathon recovery, and a few things that I have done differently.

On Sunday, we had an amazing cold front come in, and I had planned on running somewhere between 6 and 8 miles, depending on how I felt. With the amazing weather, I ended up running 10 miles, and I loved every minute of it. I took a full rest day on Monday, and while my body felt good, I definitely needed a mental break. The rest of the week was pretty standard, with regular running and lifting workouts. Thankfully, my husband has been able to handle most of our home improvements, so that I can keep focusing on training. And we finally have a move in date! It’s looking like this will be our last week in our temporary home.

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I’m so ready to finally have all our stuff in one space, and to get unpacked and settled in.  Even though I hate the process of moving, having our stuff split between two places has been less than ideal.  On Saturday, after my long run, we met up with another couple that has a son close to our sons age for dinner.  We went to this restaurant that has a huge, beautiful porch and some live music.  We had mexican food and a few beers, and the kids got to catch up and hang out.  It was the perfect ending to a very long week.

Even though it may look like a regular training week at first glance, there was a lot of recovery work that happened around my training.  Here’s a few things I’ve learned about recovering from ultramarathon races, and why my recovery looks so different from other races I’ve done in the past.

Ultramarathon Race Recovery

Even though a 50k distance is only about 5 miles further than a full marathon, there are so many ways that ultramarathons are distinct from traditional road races. There’s uneven surfaces, changes in elevation, uphill sections that require climbing and power hiking, and generally a few extra hours on your feet. All of this might mean that the impacts to your body may not be what you would initially expect.

Muscle Breakdown

Trail racing generally means slower paces and more walking breaks than a traditional road race. When you race on the roads, your legs, knees, feet, and ankles are pounding on hard pavement in a fairly repetitive manner for most of the race. When you race on trails, you pace and stride changes constantly, and you’re more likely to engage a variety of muscles that help you climb, run downhill, and jump over rocks and roots. Plus the surfaces are *usually* a little more forgiving than hard pavement.

So even though your body may feel a lot more tired at the end of an ultramarathon, you might not have as much muscle breakdown as you would think. When you race a marathon, if you’re running as hard as you can, you’ll probably feel pretty sore for a good number of days afterward. When you run an ultramarathon, your training will help your body get used to recovering quickly from long efforts, and your muscles might not need as much downtime. You might wake up feeling a little sore or stiff, but not hobbling around like you just got run over by a truck.

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Which is surprising, because during an ultramarathon, you will probably feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Or a couple of trucks. But, you’ve trained your body to rebound quickly, and for that reason, you might be able to get back into running more quickly. If you want to. Especially if you are using a shorter ultramarathon as a way to train for a longer one. So all that to say, there really isn’t a good amount of prescribed rest after a 50k, 100k, or any other ultramarathon distance. So listen to your body, and take your overall goals into account when you’re trying to decide how many days you want to take off after an ultramarathon.

Refueling/ Rehydration Needs

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Even if your body isn’t quite as wrecked for quite as long, you’ve still got to focus on rehydrating and refueling.  The extra time on your feet probably means that your body is more depleted after an ultramarathon, even if you stayed on top of your fueling during the race.  Additionally, a lot of endurance runners tell me that they have a harder time eating after ultramarathon than a shorter race.  Your stomach has been sloshing around all day, and your blood has been shunted away from your gut for a longer period of time.  Not to mention, most ultramarathon runners are fairly dehydrated after an ultramarathon.

For all those reasons, you might need to be a little more mindful about making sure you are taking in enough calories and water after your race. While you might be able to get in a sufficient amount of calories from a postrace brunch after a marathon, you’ll probably need a couple of days to get all of your refueling and rehydration needs covered after an ultra.

Related Post: Complete Guide to Running Fuel

Mental Decompression

When you run a marathon, you probably have a pretty solid idea of your racing strategy. Come race day, your job is to execute this plan; fuel when you’re supposed to and try to run your goal paces. Ultramarathons are different. The huge variety in trail distances and how technical they might be make it a little more difficult to have a set plan for race day. Plus, weather can be so much more unpredictable when you’re looking at races that might last anywhere from 6 to 48 hours

All of this means that ultrarunning and problem solving just go hand in hand. There’s always something to figure out; taking care of your feet, grabbing what you need at aid stations, calculating how much you need to carry to get to the next station, and the list just goes on and on. After my most recent 50k, I can definitely say that I felt like I had a lot of decision fatigue, even though the race was on the shorter end of the spectrum time-wise. So while your body might not need as much rest and downtime, don’t be surprised if your brain does.

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enjoying some downtime with my boys

Try to give yourself some space and time to mentally recuperate, and expect that you might have some trouble with things like sleeping or solving rubix cubes. I’d strongly recommend taking a day or two off work, if you’re able to, or at least not scheduling any big projects immediately afterwards. Even decisions like what’s for dinner might be mentally draining. Be prepared for this, and try to make sure your family knows what to expect in the days after your big race. Letting them know that you might be a little less on your game can help prevent miscommunications or confusion.

This Weeks Workouts

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Total Miles: 73
Total Workouts: 4
50 Mile Training, Week 18
How the Runs Felt
This week and next week will be my last two big pushes before my 50 mile race.  I started out the week with my second long run after my 50k, which honestly didn’t feel as difficult as I thought.  I kept my second run on the roads, so my legs didn’t have to do any climbing work.  Monday was a well earned rest day, and I didn’t mind at all.  Tuesday and Wednesday were easy trail runs, and I had planned to do my first workout on Thursday.  My workout was shifted to Friday when my husband had to make an early trip for work on Thursday. 

Friday, I ran my first workout in a couple of weeks. I had a recovery week and then a modified taper back to back ahead of my 50k, so I had been keeping all of my runs at an easy pace. I typically only do minute recoveries, but since I wanted to ease back into it a little, I didn’t push the pace as hard and gave myself two minute recoveries. The workout felt good, and I liked being able to get some turnover back in my legs. I do feel like my paces are slowing down a bit, but it’s definitely expected during this kind of training. The focus is on endurance and climbing, rather than speed. The speed always comes back.

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Saturdays long run was a tough one, for sure.  The weather was amazing for most of the week, with nice, cool mornings, but Saturday was a little warmer than the rest of the week.  I went out to the trails near our home, and got in just a little more elevation than I did in last weeks 50k, and it was challenging for the last 10k to keep moving and not want to hike more than I really needed.   I had some company for a little under half the run, and that definitely helped to break things up.  There’s no getting around that 5 hours is a real long time to be on your feet.  The thought of doubling that distance is super intimidating, but I’m just going to keep trusting my training and try to enjoy the challenge!

How the WODs Felt
This week, I shifted back to my regular programming when it came to lifting. I had tried to limit anything lower body-focused last week, but this week I incorporated front squats, deadlifts, and thrusters. My legs were pretty sore for most of the week, and it definitely made me question my decision. I know I’ll need all that strength for climbing, so at least it’s not going to waste. I will say that I was expecting to feel more sluggish in the gym, but aside from the soreness, I felt more motivated than I have in the last couple of weeks. It’s always interesting to me how things can ebb and flow like that.

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What I’ve Been Listening To
I am still loving Paper Ghosts; the host does a really great job of getting all info from multiple sources and keeping listeners engaged.  Crime Junkie really got me through a couple of hard runs this week.  I’ve gone back through some old episodes, and it never fails to keep me distracted when I’m really struggling.  Piketown Massacre is wrapping up, and it’s one of those stories that keeps twisting and turning.

What Went Well
I was really happy that I was able to recover quickly after the 50k, and stay focused on my training.  Getting back to structured workouts hasn’t been easy, but it’s been nice doing more than just easy miles.  I also made sure to get in some good stretching and core w

What Went Shitty
I’m definitely getting to that point in training where I’m looking forward to a little more downtime.  I’m also starting to get a little anxious about the thought of running 50 miles, especially since running twenty something feels really hard right now. 

Plans to Improve Next Week
Next week, I’m going to keep focusing on keeping everything in good working order for my final push.

One thought on “Ultramarathon Race Recovery – Weekly Recap 9.20.20

  1. Good conversation about Ultras! It fascinates how much diligence must be made in taking care of all the factors that get depleted and worked. It truly is a mastery of the process that allows ultramarathoners to thrive!

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