Chasing Berlin: I’m chasing my marathon PR in the Berlin Marathon this weekend and documenting my training in this blog. As a busy writer and editor in New York City, it’s certainly not easy, but it’s been a fun and rewarding journey so far! I’m covering everything from training to nutrition to recovery and even mindset. Stay tuned for more to come soon.

‘Work hard, rest harder,’ it should be said when it comes to marathon training. When you’re balancing your training schedule with your real life commitments – a demanding job, a social life, volunteering, the list goes on – it’s easy to get just as mentally burnt out as you are physically. And burn out is not on the plan. You want to arrive at the starting line feeling fresh – that’s the idea behind “tapering” in the 2-3 weeks before race day. You let your body recover just enough so that you can run at your max potential when you finally arrive at that starting line. But you shouldn’t wait until the taper to start thinking about recovery. It needs to be built into your plan just as you build in runs and strength sessions and plan your meals and snacks ahead.

When I was training for my first marathon at 24-years-old, I remember one 6-hour period very clearly: I rolled into my apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen – dressed in 4-inch heels, Rag & Bone jeans, and a slinky tank top under a leather jacket, well past midnight, saying goodnight to the doorman on shift. A mere five to six hours later, the same doorman was still on the same shift as I emerged from the elevator dressed in sneakers, leggings, and a performance top – ready (well as ready as I possibly could have been) to tackle a 6-mile training run. I actually ended up tripping in a pot hole while crossing the West Side Highway at 34th street – and twisting my ankle.

The neurotic type-A personality in me still wouldn’t allow myself to call it a day. I ran all six of those miles and then called my physical therapist later that day. I saw him twice a week for the remaining few weeks of training and yes, he worked on my ankle but more importantly he shifted my mindset so that I now saw how sleeping in that one particular morning post-spontaneous mid-week night out would actually have been way better for me. (What wouldn’t be good: Making a habit of this sort of shenanigans!) Life happens and you do make a lot of sacrifices when you’re training – we should give ourselves a break from time to time and recognize that missing a single (or even two or three) 6-mile runs is not going to make or break your chances at nailing that PR.

In fact, building rest days into your regimen is seriously important. On some rest days, you might feel like laying on the couch watching Netflix and ordering in food. Good for you. Listen to your body. I sometimes think I’m going to do that and look so forward to it until the day arrives and I’m antsy and want to get out and move. That’s where “active recovery” days come in. I’ll call a friend and go for a long walk in my Greenwich Village neighborhood. I’ll hit up yoga (one of my most favorite things – and so great for marathon runners since it helps increase flexibility and mobility) or if I really feel like I need to get some running in, I can head to Finish Line Physical Therapy where they have an Alter-G treadmill – basically it’s a treadmill with a giant air bubble in which you stand. It reduces the amount of body weight you’re using every time you strike, helping you to get more miles in sans all the pounding.

Give your body some R&R

The bottom line: You’re beating your body pretty hard and asking a lot of it – pay it back with some R&R. One cool thing that I’ve been experimenting with is the NormaTec Pulse Leg Recovery System. They’re these giant ski pants/footie pajamas (my words, not theirs) that you slip your legs into and zip up. Then, they fill up with air, and “pulse” an area of your legs. It actually feels oddly good – it starts to feel almost too intense – and then, ah! relief – as they deflate before filling up again and “pulsing” another area.

“The NormaTec compression sleeves are one of the best tools for helping with circulation and reducing inflammation to speed up recovery,” says Sara Hunninghake, Community Manager & Licensed Massage Therapist at Finish Line.

But, it’s different from the compression pants you wear every time you get on a plane: “The NormaTecs use a special massage pattern to provide dynamic compression to your legs.” Even spending as little as 20 minutes in them could help me recover faster – and feel more rested sooner – after a long run, Hunninghake told me. She recommended I come in to use the sleeves for an hour every Monday morning after my Sunday long run. I honestly feel like they’ve made a difference – and whether it’s “placebo effect” or not, I’m on board. Anything I can do to up my chances at being fresher and more ready to run my absolute best, I’ll try it.

Speaking of recovery, there are also more extreme means of recovering should you be willing to test them out: Cryotherapy, for instance, is a treatment where you get dunked in a freezing “tank” for three minutes in an effort to, similar to the sleeves, recover faster. You’ve probably heard of several pro athletes using cupping therapy to cure sore muscles and speed up recovery, too. There are endless options out there that, although not backed by solid science yet, may be worth trying. I ran all this past the experts at EXOS and they told me it’s all about finding what works for me – “If trying practices such as Cryotherapy works for you then make sure you go to an accredited facility,” said EXOS’ Kerry Greer.

Go for a massage

Still, if you prefer to stick to more conventional recovery methods, you can book a massage – a treatment that has tons of research behind it. “When it comes to training for a distance event, it’s important that runners think about soft tissue work as part of the training plan,” says Hunninghake. “Massage that emphasizes functional soft tissue therapy helps to release the soft tissue restrictions that often cause pain and inhibit movement – and can promote better blood flow to help reverse the repetitive movements and daily stresses of training,” she notes.

I got a massage in the beginning of my training from Hunninghake as an “assessment” (she told me my left side was more tense than my right, particularly my left calf – helpful info!) and plan to see her once more the day before I fly to Berlin as a pre-marathon boost (and to calm nerves and relieve tension!). In an ideal world, she says, you should go once a month during training to help reduce pain and muscle soreness that often accompanies intense weeks of training.

Another way to get the effect of a massage (that “so tissue work”) is foam rolling. I foam roll my glutes, IT bands, and hamstrings after every run religiously. Find out more about why you need to foam roll in our blog. And of course, plain old stretching, like the Stride Stretch is a good move, too – both before and after your runs.

Take a nap

Now, stop reading this and go the heck to the sleep already! Logging enough Z’s is arguably the most important piece of the recovery puzzle. “Sleep has different stages and different things are going on in your body during those stages,” explains EXOS’ Stefan Underwood. “During deep sleep is when we restore our body and our largest release of Growth Hormone is experienced – It is during this deep sleep that the mechanical stress induced during training is repaired,” he explains. If you find it hard to prioritize sleep each and every night, know that there are also science-backed bennies to taking a nap.
So, yeah, go ahead and book that massage and take a nap marathoners!

By Caitlin Carlson