Sunday, January 9, 2022

Recovery Is Essential

Dave McGillivray is the race director of the Boston Marathon. In 1978, Dave ran across America from Medford, OR, to Medford, MA, a distance of 3,452 miles. He's completed 141 marathons, including 48 consecutive Boston Marathons. He's logged more than 150,000 miles, raising millions of dollars for charities in the process. He's completed 8 Hawaii Iron Man Triathlons. He once ran 7 marathons on 7 consecutive days on 7 continents. 

With Dave McGillivray at the 2018 Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. 

Six months after the 2013 Boston Marathon -- the year of the terrorist bombings -- Dave was diagnosed with coronary heart disease. He underwent triple bypass surgery, slowed down, cleaned up his diet, and lost 30 pounds. The day before the 2014 Boston Marathon, he spoke before the American Medical Athletic Association. After thanking the first responders who had treated the bombing victims the year before, he spoke about several of his running buddies who had gone out on runs and hadn't made it home, felled not by bombs but by heart attacks. "I spent a lifetime trying to be fit," he said, "but I didn't spend time trying to be healthy." 

Considering the high-stress athletic culture we have in America, "Be healthy, not just fit" is perhaps Dave's most overlooked piece of advice. The stress response activated in athletes is such that the body may not have adequate opportunity to return to normal, leading to a state of chronic stress. Walter Bortz once said, "The body is like a grandfather clock: every day you have to wind it up." But we must wind it up wisely. Just as it's not possible to outrun a bad diet, we can't become healthy by overtraining. There is nothing superhero about pushing when you shouldn't. 

What to do? 

  • Take care of yourself. 
  • Listen to your body. 
  • Slow down, and allow yourself plenty of time to recover from your workouts. 
  • Don't mask pain with medications and anti-inflammatories. 
  • Don't let running ruin your life.

Believe me, this is one finger pointing at you, and three fingers pointing back at myself. 

The harder and busier my days, the more I look forward to a run and the more immunity from stress I derive from the sport. But it's easy to overdo it. Yes, running can make us fit. More importantly, running can make us healthier. The trick is to combine healthy exercise with healthful recovery. It's not one or the other. Running your best is all about relaxing and harnessing the body's inherent ability to heal itself. The goal is to combine moderate, healthy stress with health-inducing recovery that happens naturally and slowly. 

Running coaches have a saying:

Training success = moderate stress + adequate rest.

Recovery may be difficult, but it's absolutely essential.