5 Recovery Tips with Ultra-Runner Mike McKnight

Why should you trust gnarly athlete mike mcknight?

We all have our traditions, recovery protocols and long standing practices (maybe ice baths, divine intervention, massage therapy) to help us recover between hard efforts and races.

 

Today, we turn to Ultra-runner Mike McKnight to get his top 5 recovery tips. While Mike has completed a number of 100-mile trail races, his latest accomplishments might just blow your mind. Since 2017 Mike has completed the Triple Crown of 200s… twice. He also just set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the 485-mile-long Colorado Trail.

 

For perspective, the Triple Crown is a series of three trail races over 200 miles that are just three weeks apart from each other. This means a Triple Crown racer only has three weeks to recover from a 200 miler before the next race. 

 

Mike first completed the Triple Crown in 2017 (640 miles) in 205 hours and 4 minutes, giving him the fastest record for combined time. In 2019 with additional experience, a more focused effort and by implementing the tips below, Mike set a new Triple Crown record, shaving off more than 40 hours and setting a new combined time record of 162 hours and 1 minute. 

 

Two weeks after completing the Moab 240, in a brief phone call from his home, Mike shared the following with me:

Two years ago, when I ran the Triple Crown, I was hardly running in between the races because I was so sore. I couldn’t do a lot and I was going into each race more sore with an increase in nagging injuries. I was just trying to hold on. Then in 2019, my experience was totally different. Here are the top five things that I focused on.”

eliminate stress

Taking account of some of the life stresses that we have can be a huge variable in how we perform on race day. When you are super stressed out, your body works harder to calm yourself down. So by going into a race with a lot of stress you are already fatigued. It’s like toeing the start line of one race immediately after completing a race. The more stress you can remove going into your event, the more you allow your body to focus on recovery. Ask friends and loved ones to help manage external stress factors of an event. I use meditation and good sleep to make sure I am as relaxed as possible going into an event.

Photo: Matt Vanhorn
Photo: Matt Vanhorn

dial in nutrition

Two years ago I was following a low carb, high fat diet in an attempt to become fat adapted for my races. In between the races I would go to town and just eat breaded and fried food, trying to recover. The onion rings, shakes and fried chicken tasted amazing after each race, but I was doing it all wrong.

 

This time I did things totally different. I would increase my carbs post race but made sure I was deliberate; focusing on eating carbs that I love (lots of fruit) but still making sure they were low in refined sugar. This strategy helped replenish my glycogen. I also stayed completely away from grains to reduce the inflammation that my body experiences with gluten. I then increased my protein intake and for me this came primarily through animal products. The point isn’t to do what I do, but to find what works for you nutritionally and then really dial it in.

keep up on protein and bcaas

I am a firm believer that these are absolutely essential. In 2017 when I first ran the Triple Crown I was not using any protein or BCAA supplements. This year, I was able to run, work out and train in between each race allowing me to go into races feeling recovered and strong.  I consume BCAAs two times a day and protein two times a day.

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listen to your body during recovery

I didn’t restrict my recovery days to a strict training plan. In 2017, If my training schedule called for 10 miles, I ran 10 miles.  No matter how I felt. This year, I had a coach and a training plan but I didn’t follow that training plan like they were commandments. I would listen to my body and adapt the training to how I felt each morning. I was dedicated to moving, training and working out, but I would adjust my workout depending on what my body was telling me.

increase mobility

I am not just talking about using a foam roller and stretching. I’m talking about implementing a strength training program into your training plan. This made a huge difference for me in 2019. I had a lot of issues two years ago with my knees and hips. My coach really helped me understand the benefits of adding strength exercises to my training program. I do core work and a lot of body weight exercises. Some of the ones I focus on every day are lateral banded walks, air squats and bulgarian split squats. This completely eliminated the knee and hip issues this year while doing a huge volume of running.

Making adjustments to your current training recovery plan and being very deliberate about what you add (or take away) can make all the difference. The volume and sheer hours that Mike puts into his training may be a bit more than what most of us have on our training schedules, but if these five tips helped Mike with his recovery, at least one will surely make a difference for you. 

 

You’re welcome to continue to rely on divine intervention for your recovery or maybe you should consider this article as that intervention at work. 

 

Now, it’s up to you to get to work.

Eli Kerr

Eli Kerr

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