Running coach and footwear specialist Emma Kirk-Odunubi is an avid runner and CrossFitter who knows from experience about the benefits of recovery and rest after long training days.
Emma recently took part in an AMA with WHOOP members to answer questions about training, stretching and strength training, nutrition,and the role they all play in recovery. Below are member questions and running recovery tips from Emma.
Question: From your experience, what impacts recovery most? Long runs or interval and track training days?
Emma Kirk-Odunubi: I would say they both come in very close! From continuous intensity the interval days would be the most consistent as they always put me at a high strain because of their nature. Plus, I run my intervals in the evening too, which I find I struggle to wind down from so next day’s recovery isn’t always optimal. In saying that however, if I’m doing a long run of 20-30 km+ my body feels that for a few days. I especially notice that my RHR can stay slightly elevated.
Q: If you were planning on doing a long run but have a bad recovery day, do you overshoot your strain for that day?
Emma: Many times this has happened to me and I learnt the hard way. I have either gone on the run and felt awful and taken 2-3 days to get out the red after it, or in the past even picked up a little strain or niggle. So nowadays I think to myself, One missed run does not mean a failed plan! If you need the extra recovery day, put all your energy into making it just that–hydrate well, maybe take a nap if you can, and see how it benefits you.
Q: Are there aspects of recovery that can be enhanced by other forms of activity (e.g. walking, yoga, etc.)? How helpful are these activities?
Emma: I find yoga really beneficial for me, mainly due to the focus on breathing. Breathwork has made a big difference to my recovery and so doing it within yoga practices I have noticed it even more. I find my RHR is lower and my HRV is a lot higher the day after I’ve done breath work so even 5-10 minutes can make the difference for mind and body!
Q: How important is foam rolling? And should it happen before or after a workout or both?
Emma: Foam rolling is important to aid in muscle recovery and prevent tight muscles from causing issues further down the line. Personally, I find it helpful before and after a workout. I do focus a lot on priming my body before, so even 5 minutes of rolling will help!
Q: I always have a ton of calf soreness after long runs and it really affected my marathon. Any advice?
Emma: I would advise more calf strength work outside of your runs. Focus on calf raises and building them in 2-3 times a week to help strengthen. Also look to your feet for stiffness too. Look at using a golf ball to roll on the feet to help reduce tension and release the pressure on the calves.
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Q: How much water is best for athletes? I drink about 15 cups per day, and I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Does this mean I am drinking too much?
Emma: Generally we should all drink around 2-3 liters. On occasion during big training days or weeks some athletes can drink 3-4 liters. Overall, the body should adapt to the increase in fluids which should reduce your need to go to the bathroom. Also this intake should be throughout the day rather than last thing in the evening. It may be why you wake in the night.
Q: What is your pre and post run routine?
Emma: Pre-run I try to do some mobility of calves/hips/glutes then activate the muscle with running drills like high knees and explosive movements like jump squats to fire up my body. If I’m short on time I will go through 4 sets of 20 seconds high knees, with 10 seconds rest after mobility to prime me. Post run I try to stretch key areas again like calves/hamstrings quads. In a dream world I’d do some yoga, too, after a long run. I am not perfect and sometimes don’t always stretch after, haha! However, I feel soreness more if I don’t, so it’s a lesson to always make time!
Q: When strength training during a race training program, namely squats and deadlifts, would you pair legs on a run day or an off day? And how close/days removed should a leg day be from a long run?
Emma: Depending on the focus of the session I would sometimes pair strength with a run day. For example if my goal is for the client to hit paces under fatigue I may put a run session after weights to challenge that. Otherwise after speed or interval sessions I try to give a rest day or low intensity as it allows the muscles to recover better. For a long run, say it’s on a Sunday, I would do strength work Friday and have a rest day Saturday before Sunday. In the final few weeks of the plan, as you taper for the race, I would reduce the strength sessions and put them three days before the long run to enable you to recover more!
Q: How often do you recommend a rest day when training?
Emma: Rest days are the best days! Genuinely, a rest day is the day when the body can fully recover and where the work you put in on the road or in the gym will truly have a beneficial effect. I try to have at least one a week — two if I can. I also judge it on a daily basis. If I wake up and I feel groggy and I’m in the red for recovery but I’m meant to train, I’ll take a day off and move my session to later in the week. WHOOP really helps me stop training too hard when my body says no!
Q: What are the most common causes of running injury? And what should everyone do to prevent them?
Emma: Overtraining and poor running mechanics. Overtraining is one I have personally experienced, where before having WHOOP I would just keep pushing my body and not focusing on my recovery. It meant with limited recovery I was overreaching and my muscles and tendons weren’t having it! So pay attention if you’ve been in the red for a couple of days and reduce your load. Running form is another one to consider-looking at your cadence and stride length, and checking if it is optimum for you.
Q: I struggle with the impact on my knees from running and the inflammation it causes, but I’m looking to build back up into it. Do you have any recommendations on how best to gradually build up into running and how to manage any inflammation from it?
Emma: The knees are highly impacted by our stride length and particular overstride. Striking the ground with our feet too far in front of the body (whether forefoot or rearfoot strike) can increase the excess force that happens to the joints. Look at shortening your stride and upping your cadence to help with this. Otherwise, do as much quad and hamstring strength work as you can, too!
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Q: How can I have strenuous workouts like running and cycling for a couple of days in a row and still maintain green recoveries?
Emma: This is where the WHOOP Journal you fill out after sleep every day will become your personal diary. At the end of each month I check the Monthly Performance Assessment and see what has the biggest effect on my recovery. For myself I know this to be hydration, CBD oil and also how late I eat my evening meal! Make sure you consistently fill the Journal in so that you can then make a personalized plan for yourself, so every evening you can do the most you can to be back in that green!