Recovering from trail ultras: a how-to with Ailsa MacDonald

MacDonald raced Western States, and turned around from that race to win Ironman Canada female 35-39 category five weeks later

September 10th, 2018 by | Posted in Trail Running | Tags: , , , ,

Ailsa MacDonald
Photo: Raven Eye Photography.

Ailsa MacDonald is one of Canada’s top endurance athletes. MacDonald raced this year’s Western States Endurance Race 100-miler in June, and turned around to win the Ironman Canada female 35-39 category five weeks later. For MacDonald, the recovery from Western States was key. “Every race is different in terms of how much it takes out of you, so my recovery definitely changes drastically every race. Western States took a lot out of me.”

After Western States, MacDonald took a full week of rest. That means no activity at all. “Normally, I would try to do some light exercise after a big race to keep the body moving and blood flowing, but after Western States I physically couldn’t. I listened to my body and just took rest. During this time I got lots of sleep.”
She continues, “Normally I would eat quite a lot in the days after a big race to replace all the nutrients and replenish my energy, but unfortunately I didn’t have an appetite after Western States. I suffered from an upset stomach during the race, which lasted for several days afterwards. Not being able to eat definitely lengthened my recovery time.” MacDonald says that once her appetite did come back, she recovered quickly.
After her appetite came back, and the muscle soreness subsided, she began easy bike rides, walking, yoga, and swimming. She ensured her heart rate remained low to not add any additional stress to her body.
Her recovery advice is, “My typical recovery plan and what I would recommend is: get plenty of rest, eat lots of good nutritious foods, hydrate, go for a massage, and don’t worry about taking the time off training. So many athletes worry that if they take time off, their performance will be hindered. It’s quite the opposite.”
Jim Walmsley
Photo: Ultra-Trail World Tour

Recovering quickly from Western States is a difficult task, and Jim Walmsley attested to it as well. In an interview with Runner’s World last week, Walmsley revealed that taking on Western States and UTMB might have been too much. ““I think I was overreaching,” he said. “I had a great training block, but clearly I wasn’t back yet.”

Walmsley won and set a new course record at the Western States Endurance Run this year.