Detraining and Recovery

After 12 weeks of training for a race I’m now taking some time off to let my body recover and heal.  When I was first thinking about trying to do a fall marathon I asked my old X-Country coach what he thought about doing a spring half and a fall full marathon.  He suggested I schedule it so that I could take at least 2 weeks off without running.  It worked out pretty well in the schedule for me to run the Earth Day race and then turn around and run Twin Cities in the fall.  I’ve done pretty well at not running only logging 9 miles in just over a week (though 6 of that was racing).  I feel fine,  but I miss running.

Here are some thoughts about de-training and recovery from the New York Times.

This is from an older article about fitness but it is still worth reading and thinking about.

…training is exquisitely specific: you can acquire and maintain cardiovascular fitness with many activities, but if you want to keep your ability to row, or run, or swim, you have to do that exact activity.

It also shows, they say, that people who work out sporadically, running on weekends, for instance, will never reach their potential.

An athlete who has stopped training for 3 months loses almost all of the cardio benefits gained through months of consistent training.

Running allows athletes to have a lower resting heart rate, a larger heart, and greater blood plasma volume (which allows the heart to pump more blood with each beat).

One of the first things that athletes lose during a period “detraining” is the plasma volume.

Plasma water is lost amazingly fast, said Dr. Paul Thompson, a marathon runner and cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut.

“We once paid distance runners $10 a day not to run”, Dr. Thompson recalled. “They spent a lot of time in the men’s room urinating. Two days into their running fast,” he said, “the men lost a little more than two pounds from water weight as their plasma volume fell 8 percent.”

But if runners keep running, even if they cover many fewer miles than at their peak, they can maintain their plasma volume, Dr. Thompson said.

When athletes stop training, the heart also pumps less blood to their muscles with each beat. Both changes are so pronounced, says Edward Coyle, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas, Austin, that within three months of detraining, athletes are no different in these measures than people who had been sedentary all their lives.

The article also talks about the impact of cross-training. The conclusion is that cross-training can help the athlete keep some of their cardiovascular gains – but they will still have to work hard to recover other aspects of their training. But there is good news:

Even exercise physiologists are surprised at how quickly the body can readapt when training resumes. Almost immediately, blood volume goes up, heartbeats become more powerful, and muscle mitochondria come back.

That is the good news that most injured runners need to remember in the doldrums of an injury. The researchers did caution that recovery is dependent on a lot of factors.

[tags] Injury, Cardiovascular, Training [/tags]

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