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How to Recover Like a Pro

Trendy recovery gimmicks are advertised everywhere, but professional trail runners know it’s all about prioritizing the basics.

Photo: Arlen Glick

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One afternoon, after a particularly challenging workout, I found myself typing, cheap version of Normatec boots into my search bar. I scanned the results eagerly, debating whether $800 seemed like a reasonable amount to spend on fancy leg squeezes. Then, I opened an Excel spreadsheet, which contained my monthly budget, and sighed. No, probably not. 

I’m easily influenced, especially when it comes to recovery tools, and my targeted ads know it. For the next several weeks, those boots haunted me every time I opened my phone. The ads didn’t stop at Normatec. Soon, I was seeing posts for a sexier version of a TENS unit, a variety of massage rollers with proprietary shapes, as well as a jade, gua-sha scraping tool. I stopped to consider that maybe I could improve my ability to recover quicker just by eating a bit more or sleeping a little longer. Could these simple changes lead to noticeable recovery gains? 

My social feeds disagreed. The noise of running influencers and their sponsored posts played in a revolving carousel, void of any real information. So I decided to go to the source. How do the best professional trail runners actually recover? 

Sarah Ostaszewski: The Cocodona Queen

This past spring, 31-year-old runner from Flagstaff, Arizona, Sarah Ostaszewski, crossed the finish line as the first female and fourth overall finisher of the Cocodona 250. Recovery before, during, and after a 250-mile trek across Arizona requires thoughtful consideration and planning. Luckily, Ostaszewski had completed this event twice before and could draw from experience. 

“After finishing the first year, I didn’t really take any time off,” Ostaszewski explained. “I napped a lot immediately after, but got back into running really quickly that same week. This probably wasn’t the way to go because the next week I hit the wall. It took several weeks to feel good running again and get back to my normal pace.” 

Sarah Ostaszewski running Cocodona 250. (Photo: Tyler McCain)

Following her second finish a year later, Ostaszewski took a different approach, opting to take the first several days after the race completely off, followed by one to two weeks of easy hiking and biking. The next week–nearly a month later–she returned to running, but only easy efforts up to an hour in duration. She credits her coach, Jeff Browning, for advising her that patience pays off. 

“It definitely paid off,” Ostaszewski said. “I felt like I was moving much better on my runs sooner than that first year.” This year, Ostaszewski has followed a similar plan, prioritizing easy, short, and relaxed running with friends and allowing herself the time to fully soak in the magnitude of her accomplishment. 

RELATED: Third Time’s The Charm? Cocodona 250 Is Back

While recovering amid a typical Cocodona training block, Ostaszewski focuses on consistency of sleep, fuel, and overall routine. 

“Consistent sleep has been good for me, as well as making sure I’m getting enough calories,” Ostaszewski said. “Eating enough during training runs, especially if over sixty minutes, definitely helps a lot with my recovery. I’m not into too many tools or going out of my way to try all these different recovery methods. It’s really food, sleep, and a consistent routine.” 

Ostaszewski specifically noted her focus on increasing her protein intake during her training and after big events. “Generally, the more protein I can get in the better, but 25-30 grams per occasion, three to four times per day is the aim.” 

As supplemental recovery support, she visits a stretch or massage therapist once per month which helps alleviate muscle tightness. While not specific recovery techniques on their own, she still noted the importance of physical therapy and consistent strength training in her routine, which has helped her body handle the stresses of a large training volume and ultimately recover quicker.

Hannah Allgood: The Growth Mindset

Professional athlete, physical therapist, and coach, Hannah Allgood, trains by a simple equation:

Stress + Rest = Growth.

Taken from the book, Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, this simple equation guides many of the decisions Allgood uses to optimize her own training and the training and care of her clients and patients. 

“We typically emphasize the training component in our sport, but we don’t always stress the recovery aspect of it,” explained Allgood, 31, who lives in Colorado Springs. “If I want my body to perform at the highest level, I need to take care of it.” 

(Photo: Mike McMonagle)

The book specifically underlines the importance of sleep, which Allgood has made a priority in recent years as her running career took off, describing it as the only time humans truly experience a restorative process in the body and when training adaptations take place. At the beginning of her career, Allgood recalled intense fatigue brought on by training, which began to affect her typical sleep cycle. “That was a turning point for me,” Allgood stated. “How can I expect my body to perform its best in only six hours?” 

RELATED: How Much Sleep Do You Need to Recover from an Ultramarathon? Longer Than You Think

Allgood’s recovery is also assisted by targeting specific muscle groups with stretching and foam rolling, depending on the type of run she completes. “For example, if I’m aiming for over 5,000 feet of vert during a long run, I know I’ll need to pay close attention to my hip flexors either by stretching or foam rolling,” she said. 

While Allgood’s background as a doctor of physical therapy lends itself well to understanding how various runs might stress certain muscles, we can all take note more broadly. Allgood advises not to let the little things go unattended; consistent habits of stretching, massage, and foam rolling add up to large benefits over time. 

Allgood also notes that mental recovery can be just as challenging to prioritize. After DNFing the Long Trail event at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria in June, she experienced an array of negative emotions. 

“I know I made the right decision, but it was very painful and mentally taxing, feeling like you let the team down. But I had to give myself grace,” said Allgood. She shared that for most races, she answers three questions to help re-shift her mental state to a more positive place. 

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go well?
  3. What do I need to focus on for next time? 

Answering these questions gave her the opportunity to celebrate herself for what went well (fueling), while giving her a focus for future events (heat training). 

Allgood also spoke about her automatic urge to jump back into training immediately after an event with a disappointing outcome. However, her confidence in her coach, Megan Roche, and her training plan’s emphasis on rest is ultimately allowing her to remain injury-free and well-prepared for her next race, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc’s CCC 100K, in September. 

Grayson Murphy: The Intuitive Athlete

After securing both a gold and bronze medal for the United States at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, 28 year-old, Grayson Murphy, who also lives in Flagstaff, found herself in California a few days before the start of the Broken Arrow Skyrace weekend. She was signed up to compete in the Vertical Kilometer—a mere six days after breaking the tape at the Mountain Classic event. The day before the VK was set to begin, Murphy decided to pull out. 

“I could tell my body wasn’t ready for anything hard. I started getting intermittent leg cramps and thought, ‘Oh, that isn’t a good recovery sign,’” said Murphy. 

Murphy prides herself on being an intuitive athlete, listening intently to the signals her body sends her as opposed to relying solely on recovery tricks or technological support. 

“If I wake up and really don’t want to run, I just take that day completely off,” Murphy explained. “In the past, I had internalized that feeling as laziness, but my coach has helped me understand that it could be a sign that my body might be overtraining or stressed.”

RELATED: How Grayson Murphy (Once Again) Became One of the World’s Best Mountain Runners

Amy Frugé, PT, DPT and owner of Converge Physical Therapy in Salt Lake City, Utah, treats many elite mountain athletes, and she explained this concept further.

“Our bodies are like buckets of stress, and it doesn’t understand the difference between life stress and training stress,” she said. “If our buckets get too full and overflow, that’s when injury can occur. Our brain and nervous system tells our body to do anything it can to slow down. That’s when we see a resurgence of old, chronic injuries or occurrences of new ones. Rest and recovery help empty our buckets.”

Murphy is no stranger to dealing with injury, having struggled with both a hip and foot issue last year that took her out of competition for the 2022 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand. 

“With my hip injury, no one was telling me specifically that I couldn’t run, but I could just tell that it wasn’t getting better,” Murphy said while describing her rationale behind pulling out of Worlds. “I’d rather stop now while I still have some control of the situation before I completely nosedive. I don’t want to risk long-term health because I was too stubborn to pull back.”

Fortunately, the time away gave her perspective that included a shift away from the track and an eagerness to be back running in the mountains at full capacity. Clearly, her performance so far this year has proven that this strategy works. She also credited her coach, David Roche, for creating a healthy coach/athlete relationship that supports protecting her long-term health over any specific race result. 

“I don’t ever feel like I could disappoint him. Me being me is enough.” 

Should I Buy the Normatec Boots?And Other Takeaways

These athletes inspired me with not only their recent performances, but also how they handled their minds and bodies before, during, and after these events. Most certainly these women have achieved greatness in their disciplines through many hours of training; however, this intensity is coupled with a reverence for their bodies and the simple principles by which it functions. 

Sleep well. Eat well. Manage stress. Find support. 

Frugé looks to the research when advising her athlete-clients: “According to the current science, getting consistent sleep and fuel cannot be overstated.” She advises that nailing these basics will ultimately be the best investment in your health and performance compared to fancy technology, powders, or a jade, gua-sha tool. 

These ideas do not make their way onto Instagram often, but perhaps they should. Though simple in principle, these ideas can, of course, be difficult to achieve for many of us with kids, working full-time jobs or taking care of others. However, we can strive to make sure these fundamentals are being addressed first. And then maybe we can splurge on some Normatec boots—because, damn, those things do feel really great.



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