You’re completely pumped; buzzing and excited, you have trained for months for this day and now it is finally here. As you stand at the starting line, the mixture of anticipation, nervousness and maybe just a little bit of fear is making your head buzzy and your tummy flip a little. You’re standing aside hundreds of other comptitors, ready to tackle the day and the event that you have all trained so hard for.
You’re possibly eyeing off all these eager beavers with their fitbits, neon clothing, wet weather gear and some with the fancy stirrups and personal computers measuring their heart rate, blood pressure, stride length and possibly even ordering them a latte at the finish line., and contemplating what sort of competitor they will be? Will they be totally aggressive and run you down in an instant, or will there be a friendly camaraderie that allows the odd smile, joke and pleasantry to be exchanged.
Anticipation of the event to come and your expected output starts to drive your peripheral nervous system into overdrive. You strive to battle the release of endorphins and keep your calm, clear game head on with a fixed expression trying to deny the bouncing adrenaline surging through your cardiovascular and muscular system. Your pupils are dilated and you’re harnessing all your energy and what lies ahead.
The sheer output of all this energy leaves you with an intense feeling of exhilaration when you actually do cross the finish line and find yourself throwing your arms in the air, pumping with vigour and possibly performing a spontaneous cartwheel. Your body is spent, your legs are aching, your sweaty and smelly and you couldn’t care less. The aches and pains you know are going to hit you later, but for now you are just going to enjoy the ride and the sheer joy at having completed this challenge, even if it is for the 10th time. There’s still that wonderful feeling of exhilaration and happiness that you have ‘finished’.
So what happens now? Your body and indeed your whole system goes through a certain ‘come down’ effect after such a rush of endocrine and muscular activity. The physical and mental effects of such a huge build up and performance have an impact on all your systems – so how do you manage this?
Muscular soreness and fatigue is probably the most obvious challenge to recovering from an event. Muscle fibre necrosis in post event athletes can take up to 2 weeks to recover to adequate levels to allow for re-engaging with training or physical activity. Thus resting sufficiently to allow for repair is ideal. This doesn’t mean parking yourself on the couch and setting yourself up with the latest Netflix series and never leaving the house.
Gentle movement and some light stretching is needed to help move the muscular fibres, maintaining elasticity and the stretch reflex. The process of removing lactic and uric acid (by products of muscular contraction) is paramount and this is achieved by light stretching, movment and sports massage to assist with the lymphatic return (movement of the lymph fluid which contains these by products) out of the muscular space and into the lymph vessels and urinary system for excretion.
Cellular damage occurs for almost 7 days after an event where cells within the body have ‘oxidative damage’. An increase in creatine kinase (CK) increases myoglobin levels in the bloodstream and can also accout for some blood bing present in the urine.
Immune function is downgraded post event to a point where the body is clearly susceptible to infection and attack from foreign bodies. This supressed state can last from anywhere to 3-14 days post event and should be one of the primary reasons to not engage in extra training or strenuous activites post event.
The vitally important things straight after performance is usually a three fold combination:
1. Get warm – keeping waem after an event means the body cools down gradually. Sudden changes in temperature can have nominal effects on muscular tension and molecular rates which transfers to recovery and delivery of nutrients and anti inflammatory agents
2. EAT – ingest food. You have just used up a whole level of glycogen and most likely exhausted the levels in the muscular tissues. These need to be replaced as well as the stores in the liver that may also have been exhausted. Easily digestable carbohydrates such as Bananas, energy bars/drinks, bagels are good sources of foods.
3. Light movement and stretch down. A little bit of activity helps to keep the lymph flowing and the movement of this fluid out of the intracellular space and into the lymph system.
Following this immediate routine, you should then re-introduce other activities in a daily cycle:
Regular heat baths and soaking. Keep the molecules working away and good blood and lymph flow. Light massage also helps (nothing deep yet)
Easy activity and movement like an easy run, some gentle cross training movement with ROM being the key. Composite movements without weight or intensity. Keep the fuel intake up. Epsom Salts baths, heat and cool bathing as well to promote blood flow. Can move onto deeper massages here to keep tone and work through adhesions in fibres.
Slowly begin to return to a full load of usual training regime. Not all at once, build back up to previous loads and intensity. One easy session followed by 2-3 more intense sessions
Begin to work back into usual load and intensity. Should be hitting the same loads and figures that you were doing before the event.
Failure to follow this recovery schedule may see you tapping into overtraining and not allowing a complete level of recovery for the body. If this is the case, an athlete will only have to delay training further down the trail when training sessions have more impact than cumulative effect. Be selective about your recovery and you can ensure that you are ready for the next event when it rolls around and you aren’t compromising your fitness.