Post Race Recovery Tips
Everyone recovers from a race differently. It depends on so many things- the race distance, state of training, conditions of the race, etc. You may not need to recover at all from a 5K, but you might need a full week or more for a marathon, or anything in between!
Since my main goal is injury prevention, I’m taking recovery from the half marathon seriously. It’s helpful if you look at recovery as part of your training plan. (Not that I was very good at sticking with that…)
What to do at the finish line
Don’t stop moving. Going from 100 to 0 can be dangerous. Keep walking around for a little while after you’ve finished. Grab a medal, check out the festivities, get your camera from the car- anything to keep you moving for a little while.
Hydrate. You hydrated leading up to the race, you hydrated during the race, and now you have to hydrate after the race. It’s very difficult to meet your needs during the race, so replenishing fluid loss is super important. Your urine should return to a pale yellow or clear within in a few hours from the race. You can also weigh yourself before and after to come up with amore precise hydration estimate.
EAT!! Even if you’re not hungry, eat something with carbohydrates. The period just after exertion is the prime opportunity to refuel and replace lost glycogen and glucose stores- your body is more receptive to carbohydrates during this time. If you really can’t eat, have a drink with carbohydrates in it. A litte bit later, go for some protein too. A carb to protein ratio of 4:1 is optimal, but no need to do any crazy math.
Stretch. Light stretching, nothing too intense if you’re already feeling the aftermath of the run.
Get warm & dry. ‘Nuff said.
Ice. Ice baths can be a great way to help ice your whole lower body at once, but they’re not mandatory. Definitely ice any injuries or nagging pains that are more than just sore muscles. You don’t have to do a full on polar bear plunge to reap the benefits of an ice bath. I used to dump a whole bag of ice cubes in frigid water than hop in – but then I got my sanity back. Now I fill the tub with chilly (but not freezing) water. I get in while it’s still filling up to eliminate some of the difficultly of submerging yourself in cold water. After I’m completely in and the water covers my legs, I turn the water off and dump in a bowl of ice. Sit for 10-15 minutes. It helps if you keep your top half warm, have a warm drink, and good reading material for distraction.
(Some people say a hot bath would feel much better- it probably would, but it could cause more damage since heat can increase inflammation and raises body temperature. Some people say it’s helpful because increasing circulation can help eliminate waste and the heat helps loosen muscles. I’m not an expert here, but I lean towards waiting a day or two before hitting the hot tub.)
The Day(s) After the Race
Light activity. Or complete rest. You be the judge- listen to your body. Ease back into things with light, low-level activities like walking, swimming, cycling, or water running. When you move back into running, keep the intensity low. Gradually build back up.
Stretch. Keep stretching- make sure you warm up first, then do gentle static stretching (no bouncing!)
Massage. A massage right after the race may feel great, but too soon could make your muscles feel worse. 24-48 hours post race is the optimal time for a massage. If you can’t get a “real” massage, take matters into your own hands. Stroke (don’t knead) muscles towards your heart. Foam rolling or using the “stick” can help too. Massage helps work out lactic acid and built up waste products.
Elevate your legs. This can help drain blood & refresh blood upon standing. You can get the same effect from recovery (compression) socks.
Hydrate. Nope not off the hook yet! Drinking enough fluid is important to restore blood volume- adequate blood volume is important for adequate blood flow, which helps muscles heal faster.
Sleep. Many of your body’s repair processes kick into high drive while you’re sleeping. Plus your body’s tired- give it the rest it needs! Use some of the extra time you would normally be training to catch some zzzz’s. Getting enough sleep can also help keep you from getting sick (a hard race can decrease your immunity for ~72 hours- so wash those hands!)
Eat. While a race isn’t an excuse to eat everything in sight, you might need to. The best strategy is to listen to your body. It’s perfectly natural to have an increased appetite for a few days post race- go with the flow. Chances are your body knows what it needs better than you mind does.
Reverse taper. When you’re ready to start running again, think of it is a reverse taper period. Kind of like how you slowly built up your training in the first place. Start with low mileage and low intensity, and gradually go from there.
Finally- respect the stress of a race!!! Your body worked hard, you need to treat it right afterwards! Post marathon depression is very common- look for something else to focus on or work towards until you’re ready to think about what comes next for you 🙂
Have you taken the fast food quiz yet?! Answers coming tonight!!