The Art Of Recovery

AJW writes about the challenges of recovering effectively in trail and ultrarunning.

By on May 5, 2017 | Comments

AJW's TaproomI’ve spent considerable time over the last year and a half in recovery. First, I had the daunting task of recovering from major hip surgery during the winter and spring of 2016. Then, after getting through that, I had to pull myself up off the mat after an excruciatingly difficult run at Hardrock last July. And recently, after brashly overdoing it by running four races on four consecutive weekends in March and April, I have been in that place where I know I am on a bit of an edge and just don’t know how steep a drop-off it is from that edge. Even after all these years, I am still figuring stuff out.

What I’ve learned from these three recovery experiences is that as much as we like to have science tell us how and when we’re recovered, the truth is recovery is an art. Requiring a strong dose of patience and the ability to listen well, recovery is a delicate balance. Whether physical, emotional, or mental, the ability to recover well and completely is not easy. And often striving for the recovered end takes disparate and occasionally conflicting means. It is in the sweet spot between the ends and the means that we eventually find the space between, the space to eventually and successfully come back.

After my hip surgery, my needs were purely physical. First I had to learn how to walk again, then live normally, and then, finally, to run. As I began to run, I needed to learn to adjust to my new reality and my new body. At the same time, I had to hold back on my desire, which for decades has been my biggest challenge, wanting to do more, faster and harder. Holding back from what you want to take care of what you need is the first great challenge of recovery. And keeping desire at bay can be downright overwhelming, and, to be frank, I am not very good at it.

Then, after Hardrock, I was stripped raw. Open, vulnerable, sore, and vacant. That recovery bout was purely emotional. I wanted desperately to accept what was but I couldn’t help but dwell on what could have been. And in that process, I became lonely, maudlin, and perhaps even a bit depressed. I got out of it, eventually, but recovery in those times seems more like a war than a battle and it was only through focused acceptance of what I could and could not control that I made it out the other side, a side I am still slowly crawling out of.

Which brings me to my current recovery challenge, coming back from a simple bout of overdoing it. In this life, the truth is, saying yes is way easier than saying no and I am an unapologetic ‘yes man.’ Yet, I should know better after 25 years in this game but, alas, I don’t. Those same personal qualities that wore out my hip and sent me sideways at Hardrock have now led me to a place where I am teetering on the edge of burnout. I think I’ve caught it in time but experience suggests only time will tell. In the meantime, I need to shore up my mettle and wait it out. Which is hard, to say the least, especially when it comes to something I love so much.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Tropical TorpedoThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. These guys have been doing lots of interesting things over the past couple years but none as interesting as the recently released Tropical Torpedo, a Tropical IPA-style beer. This beer, a seemingly simple blend of their Torpedo IPA with a tropical twist is as comforting as a Tim McGraw song on a hot summer night. Check it out. It may just be the beer of the summer, even for beer snobs!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have examples from your time in trail and ultrarunning where you got your recovery ‘right?’ And how about times when you didn’t give your body and/or mind the recovery it needed?
  • Do you find that the recovery you need changes through time and from one training bout to another?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.