I recently talked with an English man who has a teenage daughter on a College track scholarship in the USA. His daughter returned home to the UK for 8 weeks for her winter break. As is common in the US College system, his daughter had started racing every weekend, sometimes doubling up over 800m and 1500m distances for her team. Her father was a bit worried about the heavy racing schedule affecting her immune system over the winter break. What should his daughter do over the northern hemisphere winter break to ensure she totally recovers, and sets herself up well for the new year on the track?
The first thing to do to take the body back to a good level of immune health is to commence gentle recovery-level training nearly every day of the week while she is at home, training around her favourite parklands. She can safely restore her aerobic enzyme systems while enjoyably jogging about an hour a day, about 5 days a week. One day a week she should run for a bit longer than an hour-perhaps 75 to 90 minutes, as gently as she likes. On at least one other day a week, to ensure she doesn’t lose contact with her hard-won track sharpness, she should do a session of short, fast and relaxed sprints, in spikes, on grass, after warming up aerobically for 20 minutes. The sprints should all be about 60 metres or less, with good technique.
A gentle walk or slow jog recovery should follow every sprint, and once she has finished her set of perhaps six to ten short sprints with good recoveries, she could jog easily for about half an hour. As long as the sprint takes less than ten seconds, it is a safe exercise that will not cause any acidic load, because the lactic acid system is sluggish in its response in the first 6 to 10 seconds of intense exercise. The short sharp sprints are run off the creatine phosphate ‘battery’, or CP system, which can return itself to nearly full power with gentle recovery of a minute or so after each short burst.
These short relaxed sprints provide an ideal opportunity to keep the fast twitch muscle fibres ticking over, while actively recovering one’s health.
After her first four weeks back home on this gentle recovery programme, her system should be ready for another similar month of aerobic running before she returns to university for an indoor season on the track, with a consistent long slow run once a week to make sure that her system stays aerobic and alkali. Because her aerobic system will have restored itself completely during her break, she may return to racing at a higher level again than when she had her last race of the outdoor track season.