How Prioritizing Recovery Led Me to Greatness
I’m from Fayetteville Arkansas. I went to preschool here. I went to junior high school here. I went to high school. I went to college at the University of Arkansas. My friends are here. My family is here. This state is in my blood and this is my city. I feel like I’m the mayor here.
Growing up in Arkansas, some of my first memories are from the track where I hung out with people like Mike Conley Junior, Sean McDonald, and many other kids that turned out to be incredible athletes. I was exposed to this early on because my dad, Wallace Spearmon Sr., was a revered sprinter that checked off most every achievement an athlete could check. He was an All-American and attended the University of Arkansas where he immediately broke a handful of school records. During his four years, he won the first National Championship for Arkansas Track and Field and established himself as one of the best athletes to go through that program. My life is what it is because of the exposure my dad provided.
However, when I was young, track and field wasn’t my original jam. I was too small to excel. I remember in 6th grade running a race that I finished in 36 seconds. 36 seconds! My dad, being the rockstar that he is, was thoroughly embarrassed.
“Being from a track family, and the son of a Razorback, it made sense for me to follow his footsteps and light up the track.”
Then in 9th grade, I hit a summer growth spurt and grew 6 inches. I finally had my strides. I was fast, and everyone knew it. So being from a track family, and the son of a Razorback, it made sense for me to follow his footsteps and light up the track.
The only tough part is that when I was at Fayetteville high school there weren’t too many athletes to look up to. Then it all changed. There were a lot of talented athletes to come from my class. There was a guy named Ronnie Brewer who played in the NBA, Blake Parker who is on the Cubs, and me of course. We set the trend in Fayetteville that being a professional athlete could be a career for students. Before that, we didn’t have anything to make this goal seem realistic.
“You do great, you run amongst the greats, and you leave as a great. That’s just the lifestyle here.”
When I got to the University of Arkansas I had the expectation to be great. My father was great, so I must be great. Everyone who runs at Arkansas is great. It’s one of the most winningest programs in NCAA history behind coach John McDonnell. The program doesn’t accept mediocrity. You do great, you run amongst the greats, and you leave as a great. That’s just the lifestyle at Arkansas.
Now that I’m the “old guy” on the track, I’m treating my position as a mentor role. Initially, I didn’t like it, but I’ve accepted it now because I want to teach the young guns the same lessons I wish someone taught me at their age. Take my first trip to Europe for example. I was young and I went through customs, which I never heard of at that age, and the lady at the desk asked me:
_“Where are you staying?”__“I don’t know.”__“Who’s picking you up?”__“I don’t know.”__“How long will you be here?”__“A couple of days.”_“Sir follow me.”
She took me to the side and I was detained for about 2-3 hours. Finally, they called someone from the track meet to come pick me up – which wasn’t fun at all and to be honest a little embarrassing. These experiences are the types of stories I try to pass along to the younger athletes that may not have this knowledge yet.
“Sometimes I wonder if I recover more than I train.”
These experiences are the types of stories I try to pass along to the younger athletes that may not have this knowledge yet.
Training & Recovery
I start my day at 9am every morning and I won’t finish until 6pm. Out of those hours, three are at the track and two are in the weight room. Everything else is filled with rehab or some sort of recovery.
We have a whole slew of modalities for recovery. We have a cryotherapy, a massage therapist, Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, acupuncture, ice tubs, zero gravity treadmills, and aqua treadmills. If you can think of it, we have it, and I’ve used it more than once this week. Sometimes I wonder if I recover more than I train. Whatever the formula is, something has to be working.
“I credit my success to taking care of myself on and off the track.”
It does seem like I do more rehabbing than working out. It’s because you can’t get away with training without recovery. The more mature you get as an athlete, the faster and stronger you become, which means you have to prioritize recovery in order to see the results of your hard work. If you don’t, you’ll get hurt. That’s just the reality of sports.
Sleep & Recovery
My family typically stays up to 3am and I’m the one in bed by 10pm. If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like I’ll get sick really quick. I need those 8-10 hours of sleep and then I’m good to go. If I get anything less than that, I’m cranky…and no one likes when that happens.
My schedule isn’t set in stone, though. Somedays, in the middle of the scorching sun, we’ll work out harder than expected. After a day like that, I find myself sleeping 10 or 11 hours in order to recover from the strain. It just depends on my workload. However, at the end of the day the rule of thumb is this:
8 hours of sleep, minimum.
The Old Recovery and The Olympics
I made my first two Olympic Games off of sheer talent. I worked hard on the track, but there were places I could have done things better, like my diet and recovery. I’m 31 now, and recovery is a vital piece of my performance. When I run more than what my body is capable of, I have to do things right to make sure I’m rested and prepared for the next practice or race. If I don’t, injuries can occur.
In 2008, I fractured a bone in my knee and tore my meniscus. That injury really set me back. I went from being perfectly healthy to the worst kind of drastic. Then after the world championships the following year, I paid for it again with tendinitis in my Achilles.
I’m older and I really have to do things right as I get to this age because of the higher risk of injuries. So this time around I’m going to do everything right as far as diet and recovery and WHOOP is the device to help me achieve this.
My coach initially approached me and thought we should use WHOOP as a performance optimization system. I was skeptical because there is always the latest and greatest gizmos out there, and I never really know how to tell what is real and what is fake. But then I put WHOOP on and my heart rate was right there. After a nights sleep, WHOOP gave me my continuous heart rate throughout the night, my heart rate variability, my resting heart rate, my total time asleep, my sleep latency, disturbances, 4 levels of my sleep cycles, and my total time in bed.
To me, that was pretty cool, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the performance side of things yet. On the Strain side, WHOOP lets me know how hard I can go today based off of how well I recovered from the night before. This device gives me the performance data needed to pick and choose the right days to work out the hardest, allowing me to capitalize on my performance.
Now that I have this WHOOP data, I can show the younger athletes what it’s like to overtrain, and how they can leverage recovery in order to optimize their performance on the track. I wish I had this knowledge earlier in my career because in track and field, it’s so easy to overtrain. I use WHOOP to not only help myself, but to give the up-and-comers insight into how their body is responding to Strain and Recovery.