This article was originally written in collaboration with Rekyl Sweden for the 2020 Para Endurance Race.
from the archives // 20 September 2020
The clock counts down; minutes slow down to seconds. Time is measured with each ragged breath. With each step, your ruck digs into your lower back. Your shoulders ache. The 24 hour mark hits, and suddenly, you’ve completed one of the toughest events available to civilians on the planet – the Para Endurance Race, designed after Sweden’s legendary Eagle March.
As one of the required tests to become a Swedish Para Ranger, the last 24 hours have shown you that you have what it takes to maximize your potential, and continue to elevate your experience as a human capable of far more than the average.
As leaders in our respective communities, we choose to dive into challenges that break us down to build us up again, rather than sit around waiting for life to throw an unwanted challenge our way.
Those unwanted challenges will still come our way, but the challenges we’ve chosen have built us up to be more resilient when coming face to face with surprises along the way.
With a similar mindset of taking the active part of life into our own hands, we must make a commitment to our recovery before life forces us into submission – in the form of illness or injury.
After a strenuous event that strains your body, mind, and emotions, it’s vital to set aside a significant chunk of time devoted to intentional and focused rest.
In a fast-paced modern world that puts a heavy focus on busy-ness, it’s easy to jump from one activity from the next. Often, we skip recovery time altogether. After an event, it’s all too common to dive back into a schedule that’s filled to the brim with obligations. After all, at least when you return to work it’s (likely) not a physical strain comparable to the event you just put yourself through. So, why slow down and retreat when there’s so much to do?
This is your invitation to do just that. Slam on the breaks, carve out a few hours or days for yourself, and devote time to intentional and focused recovery. You’ve earned it.
Because even if our daily jobs and tasks don’t task us physically, they put a strain on our minds and hearts in different ways. It’s easy to keep moving – often as a distraction, that keeps us skimming along the surface.
What will you uncover when you sink below the surface in solitude, and give yourself permission to ask deeper questions?
Whether you’re reading this after successfully completing the full 24 hours, after falling short of the finish line, or following another physically challenging endurance event, your body is in need of a nurturing recovery practice.
There are a multitude of practices we can use to recover; outlined below are a few of the basic ones: Breath-work, Hydration, Nutrition, Cold Therapy, Positive Mindset, Solitude in Nature, and Community Support.
7 WAYS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR RECOVERY
Air is our primary source of fuel, and yet it is something that few of us know how to do both efficiently and effectively. An inhale and exhale come automatically, so why do we need to bring attention to our breath to control it?
After any physical exercise, your respiratory rate is going to be elevated with your sympathetic nervous system activated. By taking conscious control of the breath, we tone different muscles and relax our nervous system into the parasympathetic state. With muscles in need of repair, using our full lung capacity to cycle oxygen through our system will speed up our recovery process.
Take twenty minutes to sit with yourself, spine straight and shoulders back. Breathe deeply into your stomach, followed with a relaxing exhale to release tension – held both in your body and in your mind. As you slow down your breath, transition into Box Breathing.
Box Breathing is a four-part breath, consisting of the following: Inhale, Hold, Exhale, Hold. Repeat. A good place to start is with a 5 second count on each segment of the breath.
With each inhale, breathe deeply so that your diaphragm contracts. Hold the inhale and try to relax into it. Exhale at a controlled pace. And again, hold with the air expelled from your lungs.
The holds are the most challenging part – especially after the exhale. Be patient with the process, and when you become comfortable with this technique, you’ll be on your way to mastering a tool that is used within the top Special Forces units around the world.
After air, water is our second most important fuel source. The human body can survive weeks without food, days without water, and minutes without air.
With our bodies comprising about 80% water, a consistent flow of fresh water keeps our systems running like a stream, instead of stagnating like a pond. Not only does water keep our mind sharp and our joints lubricated, it maintains our body temperature and flushes toxins from our system before they build up.
While it’s good practice to pay close attention to your hydration levels before and during a physical event, it’s equally important to replace the water lost through sweat after an event. Pure, fresh water serves as the most obvious choice, supplemented with sodium and electrolytes – the best of which I’ve found to be Robb Wolf’s LMNT, in a variety of salty flavors including watermelon, citrus, mango chili, and more.
And while the simplicity of water cannot be replaced, other liquids offer different benefits to the recovery process: coconut water, tea, and cherry juice to name a few.
FOOD IS FUEL
Immediately following any strenuous activity – whether an hour or 24, it’s critical to consume a balanced portion of carbs and protein in order to restore muscle glycogen as soon as possible, and keep the immune system from crashing.
In the rucking community, it’s common practice to grab a beer and burger post-event, and while it serves a social purpose, is it what our body really needs to start rebuilding strained muscles? A burger might be a nutritious option if grass-fed and served with a side of home-baked sweet potato fries, but a heavily processed burger and alcoholic beverage will fall short of the fuel we need to begin an efficient recovery process.
Our bodies are all different, but the basic outline of what you need to focus on for refueling include consuming fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein. Rather than focus on the details of what you eat and the number of macros, focus on the quality of what you eat. If you’re going to have a burger, get your meat from the best possible source. Spend a bit extra on wild salmon. And even if you just have to have a cardamom bun, make sure it’s from the best baker in town.
Whatever you’re craving, keep in mind that the most easily digested foods will promote faster nutrient absorption and speed up your body’s recovery –
Carbs: bananas, sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, dark leafy greens
Proteins: whey powder, eggs, salmon, chicken, tuna
Fats: avocado, nuts, nut butter, trail mix
COLD SHOWERS & ICE BATHS
Paired with deep breathing, cold showers and ice baths can be an effective tool for switching the body’s gears into the parasympathetic state – that is, the state of the nervous system that promotes rest and digestion.
When you immerse yourself in freezing cold water, the constriction and dilation of blood vessels encourages the body to flush metabolic waste from the system, flooding cells with oxygen and nutrients. Cooling down the body to such extremes can reduce inflammation and pain from aching muscles. But sometimes muscle inflammation is beneficial – depending on the state of your muscles and whether or not you’re injured, a short hop into the sauna might be better for stimulating circulation and building muscle over the long term.
Bonus! If you’re not comfortable with spending time in cold water, you get another mental challenge to push your limits and get comfortable with the discomfort of temperature fluctuations.
Post-event, it’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling an empty void. You’ve exhausted your energy stores and depleted all reserves.
Over the last 24 hours, you’ve stretched your limits as an individual and a teammate. You’ve proven your skills when it comes to navigation. Your body has carried you over 70 kilometers. Your mind has stayed strong through day and night.
As empty as you might feel, especially when coming face-to-face with your demons, there’s another voice that reminds you that whatever life throws at you, nothing can harm you unless you let it. During a physical event, our attention is focused on the task at hand. What matters is each individual step that we take.
Create a positive mantra or drill that serves as an anchor to keep your mind in a positive state. When the endless to do list of modern life comes rushing in to overwhelm you, what can you do to narrow your focus on the current moment and take life one step at a time?
TIME IN NATURE & SPACE FOR SOLITUDE
According to medical professions, 120 minutes in nature is enough to elevate our moods and offers a wide spectrum of benefits: reduced depression & anxiety, increased liveliness, faster rate of healing, lower blood pressure, enhance immunity, and increase self-esteem.
Combining forest bathing with alone time offers an opportunity to drop back down into our bodies and ground down into the Earth. Also known as Forest Bathing or Earthing, reconnecting to the outdoors (free from screens such as phones and smart watches) creates space for us to reboot our minds – upgrading our brain’s software to broaden our understanding of what’s possible in our life.
Sure, a long-distance endurance event in the woods is right in the heart of nature. We get 24 hours to inhale phytoncides – naturally emitted essential oils from plants that support our immune system. If that’s the case, is it really so important?
The key here is to do so alone, and without an agenda to stimulate you. When we are in an urban environment or have a specific outcome in mind, we are constantly exercising our attention. In contrast, spending time doing nothing in nature allows that effortful directed attention to broaden into a peripheral form of attention that allows us to relax.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
For 24 hours, you’ve depended on your Battle Buddy to make it through the day and night – and they’ve depended on you.
Where in your life do you show up with this level of accountability and responsibility? Where in your life can you apply that commitment?
On the flip-side of the coin, who do you need to surround yourself to continue a path of exponential growth?
Transformation is often challenging, but it’s easier when surrounded by like-minded individuals in pursuit of a common mission or goal.
A supportive community committed to a lifetime of growth creates a non-judgmental environment where you can feel safe to be yourself, and vulnerable to share your biggest goals – no matter how unreasonable they might seem to those who don’t share your passion and commitment to excellence.
If this is one of the first challenges that you’ve pushed yourself through on a physical, mental and emotional level, it’s a great time to pull out a journal and contemplate the question:
Where do I go from here?
You might come up with actionable steps that you can easily break down into SMART goals, or with a more abstract feeling that something in your life needs to change.
To prepare for the next challenge that you take on, there are additional steps that you can weave into your daily and weekly life, so that you continue on the path of self mastery.
As we covered with Breathing Exercises and Hydration, circulation is an important element to the recovery process. A long-term mobility plan will increase blood flow through your joints, which will support injury prevention and faster recovery over the long-term. Areas to focus on include hip flexors, glutes, quads, and shoulders.
One of the easiest ways to integrate a daily mobility practice is to make it a part of your morning routine, so that it becomes a non-negotiable habit before the obligations of your day begin. Incorporate stretching, dynamic yoga movements, a foam roller, and gua sha.
If your journaling process gives you more abstract answers – dreams of what’s possible when you surround yourself with a like minded team to accomplish life’s missions with ease – circle back to the Supportive Community. If you’re searching, seek out those who have walked the path before you. A mentor or coach will help to serve as a compass in uncharted territories.
It’s not about the distance you run. The iron you lift. It’s about who you’ll become on the journey.
To learn more about how you can support Swedish Veterans, check out Rekyl & Rekyl Atlet – currently supporting international veterans with over $100,000 USD given in donations.
To sign up for the next Para Endurance Race, find more information here.
Photo Model: Ambassador Matilda Pårup, wearing the Nordic Forest leggings.