High school Track and Field season is peaking now. One of my athletes is helping her relay team set school records in Colorado and here in Illinois, my son Eric has been racing fast 800, 1600 and 3200-meter events. I just had a morning meeting with one of our school’s best distance runners, a young man that I have known since he was in elementary school. He was wondering why he has struggled through his last couple of races after such a strong early season. He is one of those kids who always gives 100% to his training, racing and schoolwork.
As he described how he felt during the last couple of weeks (during the day, during training and during racing), I quickly realized that the cumulative stress of a season of training, racing, school, A.P. tests, prom, etc., was all catching up with him this week. “Good news,” I said. “We can explain why you feel like you do and help to improve it.” His problem was one common to many endurance athletes: all work and not enough recovery.
We spent the next hour talking about how to reduce the cumulative fatigue so that he could realize the fruits of all his hard work in the sectional and state meets. The following “Big Three” recovery pillars are the same for high school athletes, elite athletes and age-groupers alike.
Get more sleep every night. Sleep allows your body to produce hormones that repair and strengthen your body for the next day of training.
Add short naps. Set your alarm and close your eyes even for 10 minutes.
Practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing for 5 minutes or more each day restore your brain and body while reducing stress.
Be sure to taper training volume significantly for the sectional and state meets.
Even for elite runners, there are some days when a recovery run is not as good as a good old-fashioned rest day. Don’t make the mistake of running more miles after a poor race performance when rest is what you actually need.
#2 Nutrition for Fueling and Recovery
Eat enough to support training. See a Sports Registered Dietician for guidance.
Include recovery nutrition immediately after every hard or long workout (20 grams of protein, approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of body weight and enough fluids to replace what was lost to sweat.)
Eat densely nutritious foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality protein, healthy fats).
Always carry and sip from a water bottle with electrolyte tablet (avoid tablets with sugar alcohols like sorbitol for sweeteners as they can cause digestive distress).
Develop daily hydration habits that prevent periods of the day where you become dehydrated (school hours, work hours, etc.).
Create a hydration plan for race day and practice it often to fine tune for success.
No matter how well your training has gone, don’t expect to race well if you don’t employ these “big three.” You will simply be too fatigued, and your performance will decline. These are non-negotiable for a dedicated athlete. Best wishes to all the track and field athletes competing this month!