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Trail Tips

Recovery Tips from the Elites

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Top runners spill the beans on high-mileage training, sleeping well and the joys of second breakfast

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Upon learning that staying injury-free is one of our readers’ biggest priorities in 2014, we devoted a special section in our March 2014 issue [available on newsstands Jan. 30] to recovering right from long runs and hard workouts. In it, we offer instruction on self-massage for common runners’ maladies, review popular foam rollers and other recovery-oriented tools, and even look into the nutritional value of the trail runner’s favorite post-run beverage—beer!

Here, we talk with five longtime, elite, high-mileage trail runners about what they do between runs to keep their bodies healthy and happy.

Meet the Panel:

Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, 46, of Sandy, Utah
Coach, ultrarunner
Holds world record for most 100-mile wins (35), including six career wins at Wasatch Front 100 and five wins at Hardrock 100

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Photo courtesy of Karl Meltzer

Meghan Arbogast, 52, of Corvallis, Oregon
Massage therapist, coach, ultrarunner
30-plus-year running career, with 2013 podium finishes at Bandera 100K, White River 50, Way Too Cool 50K, Ray Miller 50K and Ice Age Trail 50K

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Photo courtesy of SCOTT Sports

Jeff “Bronco Billy” Browning, 42, of Bend, Oregon
Graphic designer, ultrarunner
10-time 100-mile champion at San Diego, Wasatch Front, Cascade Crest, Bighorn and others

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Photo courtesy of Patagonia, Inc./Maxwell Frank

Michele Yates, 31, of Roxborough Park, Colorado
Fitness professional, ultrarunner
2013 champion of TNF Endurance Challenge 50 in San Francisco, Run Rabbit Run 100, Bandera 100K; 2013 Ultrarunning Magazine Female Ultrarunner of the Year

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Photo courtesy of Michele Yates and The North Face

Mike Wardian, 39, of Arlington, Virginia
International ship broker, marathoner and ultrarunner
Champion of 30-plus marathons (2:17 PR), USATF Ultra Runner of the Year 2008-2011, and podium finisher at Marathon des Sables and Badwater Ultramarathon

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Photo courtesy of HOKA/Scott Markewitz

Read on to learn about their training and recovery habits …

How many miles per week do you typically run?

Karl: I run about 60 to 70 miles per week when I’m in full swing, starting about mid- to late February, and that lasts until about mid-November.  Once I reach my final race, I take a few weeks completely off through the Christmas season to “recharge” my brain. During the winter months when trails are loaded with snow, I still get about 10K to 13K of climbing. During mid-summer, I exceed 20K of climb each week. There are no easy miles in my routine. I give it a good solid effort almost every day, with the exception of a few easy days for recovering.

Meghan: It varies depending on what I’m preparing for. Right now I’m training for 100K, so I typically run 8 to 12 miles Monday through Friday, then go for some back-to-back long runs on the weekends, building up to a 60-mile weekend two to three weeks out from the race. For shorter races, I’ll cut back on those long runs, and work on quality over quantity. For 100-milers, I try for 60-mile weekends a little more often. Peppered in there are low weeks, which are for tapering for races. I typically race every four to eight weeks.

Jeff: Low-mileage, off-season weeks range from 30 to 50 miles. During normal season when I’m racing nearly every month, typically February through October, my mileage climbs into the 60-to-100-miles-per-week range. All those weeks include a fair amount of climbing. I run hills three to four days per week year round, totaling 2,000 to 17,000 feet of climbing per week. I also cross train with strength circuits and cycling. Prior to ultra running, I came from a cycling background, so I try to mix in another two to eight hours per week on the bike, commuting plus one or two training rides a week. The older I get, the more I feel strength and core work is essential to avoid injury and aid recovery. I do one or two short, intense full-body strength sessions per week. It also keeps muscle imbalances in-check, helps potential weak spots and runs the muscles through a full range of motion.

Michele: 80-plus-mile weeks.

Mike: I am averaging approximately 70 miles per week. I am still coming back from several injuries. Before 2013, I was averaging 100 to 110 miles per week. During 2013, I have augmented my running with cycling and additional bodyweight exercises.

What do you do to help your body recover between races? Ice, massage, otherwise?

Karl: I don’t do many ice baths, compression or foam rolling. I let my body settle down on its own. I usually take a few days off and don’t run at all. I do go for walks to keep moving. I think it’s important to be proactive and to keep the muscles moving. I do simple massage on myself when necessary, and only start running again when I feel ready. It can sometimes be two days after a 100, or sometimes six—it really depends on how I feel. I make sure I stay nicely hydrated as well. I am very much a “feel” runner, so my training is usually not too structured after races. Once I feel recovered, I put a plan together and stick to it, in most cases.

Meghan: I’m a weekly massage junkie, and get physical therapy once per month. It’s important to keep the car tuned up.

Jeff: I have foam rollers of different types all over my house. I use compression after long runs and races and during the colder months in training. I incorporate some yoga-style stretches and active stretching techniques a couple of times a week—unless I’m on a big design deadline, and then extra bodywork and maintenance is the first thing to get ditched. I get professional bodywork occasionally, mainly in the form of ART (Active Release Technique) for unexpected issues. I take a few two-to-three-day blocks off running scattered here and there after races or if an overuse thing pops up. Plus, I don’t run at all for 10 days after 100-milers. When in doubt, I get on the bike until I feel better.

Michele: I start with a high-protein meal, sometimes eating it while in an ice bath, then onto recovery boots (while wearing compression socks). Later in the week I see my massage therapist (when I can afford her), and typically take at least three days totally off with some light walking and stretching and foam rolling.

Mike: I love the 110% Compression gear (I am digging the Juggler Knickers but also like the full tights and socks) as I can slide ice in and get the benefit of both ice and compression, which is just one less step. I also use “The Stick” a lot to keep my body supple and limber and to get deep into the muscles. I was getting weekly massage, too, when I was doing more mileage.

What do you typically eat/drink in the hours following a long run or race?

Karl: The most important thing anyone can do following a long run or race is to consume some form of recovery drink or food. I always drink Ultragen from First Endurance, even after short runs. It is an amazing recovery product and I feel has a lot to do with my overall recovery and performance the following day.  After a long ultra, I’ll drink Ultragen two or three times in about six hours after the event, then consume food as much as I want—which is typically a lot, as I’m usually starving after long races. My fridge gets depleted rapidly. Protein is best, but honestly, anything looks good. Sometimes it’s greasy junk. I know that sounds bad, but it’s the fat that most of us crave.

Meghan: I’ve only recently started paying better attention to fueling after hard workouts and long runs, thanks to advice from nutritionist Meredith Terranova. Right after said workouts I will drink a recovery drink such as Recoverite or chocolate milk, or half a sandwich. Then after I’ve showered and relaxed a bit, I’ll eat a proper meal. I love second breakfast, or second dinner—whatever the case may be.

Jeff: Lots of organic whole foods. Mainly natural meats, organic fruits and vegetables and a few limited grains. My nutrition is relatively consistent whether before, after or between races. Basically, with food, I try to stick to an 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of the time I eat well (i.e., no processed foods), and the other 20 percent—well, I try not to sweat it too much. I’m not super strict—burger, pizza, good dark chocolate—and drinking in moderation. My one hard rule is NO fast food. During the summer, I grow an organic garden and most of my complex carbs come from rice, yams and potatoes. I have a high-end blender, so I do a lot of recovery smoothies with organic greens and raw eggs (I have a couple of organic urban chickens). I supplement essential fats and vitamin D daily, as well as a liquid herbal immune booster on a two-week-on, two-week-off cycle during heavy training blocks (or if I someone in the house is sick). One of my daily favorites—“phat” coffee. This is a concoction that includes a spoonful of unsalted, grass-fed butter, a spoonful of organic coconut oil and good local roasted coffee French-pressed—blend until frothy and enjoy. It’s full of essential fats that buffer the acidity in the coffee. With three kids and a demanding design career, if I miss anything, it’s sleep. So, I like coffee.

Michele: GU Brew, lean meat/protein (especially salmon) on a salad (kale, spinach, all the good veggies!) and fruit.

Mike: Coming off a race, my stomach can be a little off so I try to get in some type of calories. If I can get something with some protein and some fruit—I love bananas, berries, apples, oranges—then that is great and really helps get my on the road to recovery. I also aim for 16 to 20 ounces of fluids within 30 to 45 minutes of finishing. [After a training run], if I am in Washington, DC, I usually try to get to my favorite salad place called Sweetgreen, where I’ll eat a delicious custom salad. They have fresh-pressed juices that I love and really think that their food has kept me fueled, healthy and allowed for faster recovery between runs/workouts.

Any other recovery-oriented tips to share?

Karl: The one thing I see a lot of people do is to try and come back too fast. Usually after a good race, we are fired up and want to get right back on the throttle, but, typically, two weeks post race, we experience a lull in training and become very tired, and sometimes this brings on overuse injuries. We must respect the recovery time. Look at Nick Clark and Ian Sharman this summer running the Grand Slam. They didn’t train much in between races, because recovery plays a bigger role than training at that time … and look how well they did.

Meghan: Don’t be married to a schedule. When you’re tired, respect it and adjust. Keep it enjoyable, as it is what we do for fun.

Jeff: If you feel you’re fighting an issue, don’t push it. Don’t run through it. Take a few days and either rest or cross train. Don’t forget about the bike. Cycling is my go-to activity, when I feel overuse injury or if I’m feeling tired and stale in training. Or if I just need to actively recover from big mountain-running efforts. I embrace a day on the bike and take a day off from running. You won’t lose anything if you do; it only helps. It’s an incredible tool for flushing your legs while giving yourself a little break from the pounding.

Michele: Sleep a lot. Don’t fight it and continue to push the fluids, eat healthy high-protein meals and sometimes take a hot Epsom-salt bath.

Mike: Stay active, as I think that keeping your body used to being in motion helps speed recovery. It doesn’t necessary mean running—although that is what I prefer—but it can be anything, walking, cycling, hiking, moving in general. I love getting out the day after a long run and/or race and just testing the waters to see what is possible. I also suggest trying to get solid sleep. I am a pretty terrible sleeper, as Jennifer, my wife will tell you—but if you can get a good block of sleep, it will do wonders for recovery. For me that is about four hours and then the rest of the night is only ok sleep, but your body needs rest. I failed to listen to that in the past and paid the price.