It’s now been two and a half months since I ran 800-miles and set the supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) for women on the Arizona Trail (AZT). It’s been two and a half months and today is the first day I’ve been able to go on my first long-ish run since the Arizona Trail.
As you can imagine, it’s been a long and tortuous road to “recovery” to get to this point. “I wish”; “I should have”; “why didn’t I” are negative thoughts I have as I think back to why it is taking my body and mind so long to recover. I’m realizing now that my body needed more time to heal and recover than I thought it would. I’ve come to recognize that there is no magic formula that could predict what recovery looks like since everybody is so different and there is never one size fits all recovery plan out there.
I have learned so much from long distance running about life, my body, running (obviously), health, nutrition and my mindset. When preparing for a race, the majority of my time is usually focused on training and nutrition. The closer I get to race day, I’ll start planning for the event itself but I have never spent any decent amount of time considering my recovery. Over the years I have bumbled my way through it and on the whole, my recovery times have been short and I’m usually back at it and the training for the next race before I know it.
My recovery after the Arizona Trail was a complete mess. I was empty both in body and mind. I slept for 4 days out of physical exhaustion but to be honest that was the least of my worries. After two weeks, my body was feeling mostly back to normal but it was my mind that needed help. I felt so lost. I had gone from having round the clock support, to being on my own. From being single mindedly focused on achieving a goal to having no purpose. From being outdoors to indoors, from healthy eating to emotional eating and from smiling and being sociable to staying in my bedroom.
I think back about my experience after finishing the trail and realize now that I was not in a position to have done much differently due to my weakened physical and emotional state, however, what I do think about is that if I had planned for my recovery, things could have taken a much more positive turn.
So, what can I do differently next time, how will I plan my recovery? I learned the hard way, but hopefully the below tips will help you on your road to recovery after a big running or life event in general.
I will give my friends a heads up of what is coming and ask them to check in on me and if needed, even come fetch me from my house. I will plan some play dates in advance so even if I am suffering from the blues since finishing the next grand goal, there is already something in the diary to force me out of the house.
I will plan some kind of activity – a walk/hike, biking, swimming, yoga (you can choose whatever floats your boat) to get me moving again, as much for my soul as well as for my body. This might be one of the play dates I plan, to encourage me to get moving even when I’m not feeling like it. I know I always feel better moving my body than I do when I’ve been lying on the sofa for hours on end. When I’m feeling low it’s difficult for me to take those steps regardless of what I know to be true!
It’s easy for me to want to relax and binge watch TV on the sofa, especially after expending a big effort from training and the race itself. I deserve it, right? And while that will feel great for a day or two, anything more than that is unlikely to have a positive impact for me. I know that what will make me feel better is to go outside and enjoy nature, even if it's just sitting outside in the garden or on the porch.
I know I always feel loads better when I have had a good night's sleep. If possible, I won’t plan any early morning appointments so I can let my body wake up naturally, telling me it’s had enough or I’ll go to bed earlier so I maximize the time allowed for sleeping to reap the restorative benefits on both my mind and my body.
What have I been dreaming about through my training – a meal out, a massage, a break away? I’ll plan it in advance so I have something to look forward to.
I’ll prepare some food in advance of my race so I’ll have some healthy and enjoyable meals ready to eat when I’m feeling too tired to shop or cook. Hopefully this will limit the need or desire to buy that packet of cookies or get that fast food meal and help me maintain a healthy lifestyle and not completely fall off the wagon.
I had spent two and a half years focusing on my running goals leading up to the AZT and hadn’t thought much past this. The downside to that was I was left feeling quite bereft with nothing to anchor me after I had finished. I had a lot of question marks in my life about what was next and didn’t have the mental strength or positive energy to find a solution or path to take.
I quit the corporate world after 22 years as this was driving all my decision making and was my sole focus. I knew I needed more in my life. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and discovered my passion for running at the age of 39, which quickly became my primary driver. I’ve since learned that I need to have a plan and goals for all areas in my life including work, running, other hobbies, friends, family, community and my health. So that when one goal is achieved, I have others to focus on and look forward to.
How has my recovery journey progressed? It’s been a steep learning curve but with the help and support of my friends, together with my mental fortitude, I’ve been able to recharge my batteries and fight my way through the fog. The future no longer looks bleak and complicated and I feel excited and grateful to have a world of opportunities ahead of me. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter in my life will bring. There will no doubt be more big challenges, as I like to continually push myself outside of my comfort zone, but now look forward to the aftermath, knowing I have a better understanding of how to balance my emotions.
This article is a revised version of the originally published article on TrailSisters.net. Helen is a 2020 Balega Impi team ambassador and resides in Flagstaff, Arizona. To follow Helen’s future adventures follow her on Instagram at @livehappyrunfree or Facebook: Helen Galerakis.