Part 3 of our Q&A with NY Custom PT is all about recovery. Recovery is major key for injury prevention. Cat Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS, CAFS (seriously, so qualified) answers all our burning questions about race prep, massages, tackling multiple marathons in a year, and that neon tape stuff that people decorate their muscles with. Be sure to read Running Injury Tips - Part 1, and Part 2 for more expert PT running tips on how to get or stay injury-free by race day.
OnlyAtoms: Is there anything I can do the week before a half or full marathon to help my post-race recovery?
NY Custom PT: Proper preparation in all realms of life is essential— especially specific training adjustments, nutrition, and sleep. As tempting as it is to push yourself during that final week before your race, stick with the tapering plan! This allows your body to go into the race fully repaired—therefore setting yourself up for a better race and recovery period. Sleep is often harder during the week leading up to a race—whether that be because of nerves, change in routine with the taper period, or any other stressing factors. Getting enough sleep is absolutely necessary for healing in general, let alone after a marathon! Seven to eight hours per night is recommended—be sure to shoot for this in the week leading up to your race. It will make a difference come race time and make for a more efficient recovery. Additionally, sticking to proper nutrition will fuel your body well. It would certainly be difficult to repair muscles without the right tools! Focus on getting enough carbohydrates, protein, and fruits and vegetables. For specific recommendations, consult a dietician [but our recovery smoothie is a good start].
OnlyAtoms: Whenever I get a massage, masseuses always tell me I should get regular massages because my muscles are so knot-y. Are they just saying this because they want me to buy more massages? What can I do in-between sessions to prevent getting all knotted up? When is the ideal time to get a massage around a race? Before? After? Both?
NY Custom PT: “Knotty" is an interesting and often confusing term. When I use the word "knotty" to describe muscle tissue, it is to explain that the tissue is disorganized in some way. Muscle are made of individual muscle fibers each with the ability to contract, and these fibers generally line up parallel to each other in an organized manner. When a muscle fiber's orientation is changed- due to injury, poor postural positioning, etc- we often call it "knotty". It is important to keep in mind that many runners get massages because of tight muscles, not necessarily "knotty" ones.
So the real question is, why is the tissue knotty —or tight— in first place, and how is it affecting your life? For example, most runners have tight calf muscles. This is a byproduct of the volume of work they put in on a regular basis. To avoid both injury and changes in how they move (as the tightness can limit joint range of motion limiting), runners need to work on maintaining calf mobility. Massage is one wonderful way to do this! Massages for the purpose of increasing mobility can be done at any time throughout the training process.
Massages for the purpose of working through knotty or disorganized tissue can also be done any time throughout the training process, but I would not recommend it the week before a race, as these massages can often leave you feeling sore. It is also important to address the WHY. Another example: in today's world of hours upon hours of desk work, many people will have knotty upper trapezius muscles. They sit with poor posture which alters the orientation of the upper trap muscle fibers. So a massage will be greatly beneficial to relieve any pain or discomfort you might have throughout the day at your desk and to increase mobility, but if you don’t change your posture a vicious cycle is created. Use the massage for symptom relief and to improve mobility, but the underlying issue most also be addressed to create a lasting solution.
Leading up to a race, a preparatory sports massage can be helpful. The purpose of this massage is to get the muscles ready to go for race day. This is something you would want to do as close to your as race as possible.
OnlyAtoms: What’s the best way to train for and recover from running multiple half- or full marathons within a few weeks of each other? What about running back-to-back races like Disney’s “Dopey” challenge (5K Thursday, 10K Friday, Half Marathon Saturday, Marathon Sunday)?
NY Custom PT: When determining how to train for races very close together or for race challenge weekends (multiple distances in a few days), it is necessary to determine what your goals are. Why are you doing the race challenge? Why are you running two marathons within a few weeks of each other? Typically, runners run race challenge weekends to see if they can do it—usually not for a time goal. If you are running two marathons or multiple half marathons close together and you are focused on time goals, it is necessary to determine an “A” race, “B” race, etc. For the best results you have to know when you are going to put in 110% effort. If your “A” race comes after your “B” race, then you should use your “B” race as a training run. If your “A” race comes first, go for that PR, and then continue on your taper plan through to your “B” race. At this point you can see what you have left in the tank after racing hard so recently, and then take the proper time to fully recover after this race.
A similar approach can be used for race challenge weekends—train for your “A” race. For example, in Disney’s “Dopey Challenge” (5k Thursday, 10k Friday, Half Marathon Saturday, Marathon Sunday), if your “A” race is the marathon, I would recommend using the other races as easy, conversational pace runs. If your “A” race is the half marathon, you need to be sure you have the training mileage to be able to complete the marathon, but you can treat the actual marathon race as a long run. Obviously this will be challenging given you just raced at full effort 24 hours ago, so it is crucial to hydrate, get your electrolytes, and eat properly to full your body. Generally, I would not recommend participating in race challenge weekend for time goals—it does not allow you to do your best and significantly increases your injury risk. However, if your goal is to “see if you can do it all”, this a better approach for both overall performance and injury risk!
OnlyAtoms: What’s the deal with KT Tape? Is it just a placebo effect?
NY Custom PT: Kinesio taping is a taping method designed for rehabilitation of a musculoskeletal injury and/or offering muscular support. There is mixed research on the specific benefits of kinesiotaping, but there is no denying that it has its place and can be effective in facilitating proper muscular support. Kinesiotaping alone will not fix an injury, but it will provide an added benefit (such as reducing swelling or decreasing muscle fatigue) that may allow an athlete to return to sport sooner than if he or she had not been using the tape— a similar concept to a basketball player who sprained an ankle using an ankle brace. Research has also shown that it does indeed produce a placebo effect as well. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because if the taping is helpful, even from a placebo perspective, it can still be effective.
OnlyAtoms: We’ve heard runners say the best way to recover from an ultra marathon or a marathon is to run 3-5 miles the next day? Shouldn’t we be enjoying a post-race pizza and beer fest? Is cross-training (i.e. cycling, swimming, or walking) a better activity to do to loosen up the day after?
NY Custom PT: Running the day following a marathon or greater distance is not necessary. Your body has just exerted itself to its fullest extent —further exertional activity is not needed. The idea of running 3-5 miles the day following a race of marathon distance or greater is most likely to clear metabolic waste from the muscles and lymphatic system. While a shake out run can be effective, it is not necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, no movement at all is only going to increase soreness and delay recovery. I recommend restorative exercise during this time— gentle yoga (not vinyasa power yoga, etc—that is exertion based not restorative based exercise), foam rolling, and stretching. Recovery boots that utilize compression, such as the Normatec boots, are also a great tool to help clear metabolic waste from the leg muscles, lymphatic, and circulatory systems. So again, a shake out run can accomplish these things, but is not necessary.
OnlyAtoms: How effective is a post-race “zero week”?
NY Custom PT: A zero week can be very effective post race. It allows your musculoskeletal system (and other systems!) to fully repair itself, as well as achieving mental recovery to prevent burnout. For a runner with a heavy training schedule, a “zero week” is a great way to achieve full recovery after your “A” race for the year.
At NY Custom PT & Performance Center, runners will achieve their running potential and strengthen their bodies. The team of specialized Physical Therapists and Running Specialists will spend one-on-one time to assess biomechanical alignment and fitness goals. They provide hands-on physical therapy care for higher standards and better results. Their staff of physical therapists ("Running Consultants") has the training and experience necessary to help improve running performance. NY Custom PT and Performance Center offers Biomechanical CUSTOMFIT Running Analysis, massage, acupuncture and more.