Life is suffering. This is Buddha’s first noble truth, and one that we understand well as runners. We try hard to avoid suffering by taking ice baths, gobbling Advil, and wearing compression gear. But, we should embrace our discomfort if we want to become stronger.
Training is simply forced adaptation. We stress our bodies by running. And, while we rest, our bodies adapt to the demands of our training by becoming stronger and fitter. We disrupt this process of adaptation when we put too much emphasis on recovery.
A recent study by Australian researchers finds that ice baths interfere with strength and muscle mass gains in athletes. It seems that the ice baths may actually block signals that encourage growth and adaptation. A little discomfort may be required to jumpstart the growth process.
“The fatigue that you get from running – when your legs are sore – that’s a response to the stress you’ve just put it under. And that stress, that damage, is exactly what signals your body to get stronger…” - Alex Hutchinson
So, don’t worry too much about pampering yourself after your runs. Eat well, sleep well, and let nature take it’s course. The human body is an amazing machine, with the potential to adapt and get stronger when necessary.
Of course, there are times that you’ll want to give your body every recovery advantage possible. After a race, during a planned recovery week, or after an especially grueling workout, a little TLC will go a long way. After my last marathon, I don’t think I would have made it down the stairs the next morning if I hadn’t soaked my legs in ice water, worn my compression socks to bed, and hung on to the railing for dear life.
Jason is a competitive marathon runner and RRCA distance running coach. He's the senior editor at SaltmarshRunning.com, and writes for several online health and fitness publications. When he's not running on the roads and trails, Jason can be found enjoying life with his family and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast.
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