Photo from the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Miler by Ali Engin. Permission to use header photo must be obtained through Ali Elgin.

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Female vs. Male Long Race Recovery

Men and women: they are biologically different, of course. They run races differently so why wouldn't they also recovery differently? Seems intuitive, but I can't find that this has been looked into much, if at all, scientifically before.

I was inspired to write this post after reading emails and comments from many of you, then looking into it further and noticing a pattern: men tend to get injured during races, women 1-2 weeks after.

Why is this?

Let's look at women first: they are more flexible than men, due to estrogen, so this in itself helps prevent injury during the race itself. Plus, women tend to be extremely good at noticing warning signs from their bodies. This helps prevent them from pushing themselves to the point of injury.

Men are more likely to go all out and either get injured or make it through the race and do well. After a marathon or ultra marathon, a typical man's response would be "I just ran a marathon, so I'd better not run for a while."

Whereas women seem to think they can just return to their normal exercise routine. It is hard to say if this is soley the result of pyschosocial factors such as the need to stay thin and the need to prepare for the next race, or if there is also a biological reason for this train of thought.

Here is my experience vs. SR's after our last marathon: During and shortly after the race I felt good. The very next day, I went out for a 20 minute run without any specific pain, but just a general fatigue. Over the next few days, I ran between 20 minutes to an hour, slowly, just trying to recover. But as they days went by, my right hip bothered me more and more. Yesterday, it was to the point that I couldn't walk without a limp because my right leg had been pulled a good 2 cm shorter than the left due to muscle tightness in my right lower back and hip. It is so painful that I have trouble sleeping if I don't have a heafty dose of anti-inflammatory in my body.

SR on the other hand didn't run at all for 4 days after the race. After marathons or ultras he is so sore that he can barely walk the next couple of days. Now it has been 10 days since the race and he is back to his normal running routine without any injuries or pains to speak of.

I was moved by Marie-Aline's story of running her debut marathon in 3.10 and feeling great, returning to hard training a week later and ending up with an ankle injury that gradually worsened and left her unable to train for 18 months!!

Another small amount of evidence comes from the Trans-Alpine race where women's teams classically start out doing well, but by the end of the week, a much smaller percentage of women's vs. men's teams are able to complete the course (due to injury). And I do not believe this was caused by a lack of training.

The importance of pre and post race nutrition as well as adequate rest has also been raised many times. But I struggle to find evidence or good guidelines.

My informal research has led me to believe that men and women should follow different guidelines, but I am sadly far from proposing any due to lack of evidence. I look forward to all of your thoughts on this subject.

No running song today... but I will give a shout out to Danni, who sent me some running music, which I am so excited to hear :)

3 comments:

Danni said...

Let me know when you get it! Hopefully you won't hate all of it. If you do it's ok of course.

sarah said...

I'm sorry to hear about your injury. I know how frustrating that can be. After many similar experiences, I have learned to just trust what all the books tell you. After a marathon, take a few days completely off. Just force yourself to do it. Don't take two weeks off, but figure out what works for you and do it. Rest! For me it seems to be about 3 or 4 days. Good luck with the injury... make sure your bed is not too soft. That exacerbates my hip issues when the flare up. Sleeping on the floor may be a better option.

olga said...

I can't help you because your research is based on road marathons fast all-out running. I' think you may want to take a few days off just due to pounding and beating you get from the surface. Get better!