Knowing how to recover after a race is just as important as training before a race. And, neglecting to give yourself sufficient time to rest not only limits your improvement as a runner, but can also have a more serious effect on your overall health. So, while you’re preparing for race day, don’t forget to fit post-race recovery into your plan.
Recover while you run
The first steps to a good recovery actually take place on your run. Preventing unnecessary damage gives you a head start in preparing for your next training session. Think about your workout as a bell curve and move smoothly from a walk to your intended running pace, then back.
After you've finished your run, immediately refuel. For two hours post-run, your body will be trying to restock what it's just burnt. If you wait until you’ve driven home and showered you won't be absorbing the nutrients as well as you could. Keep a recovery drink on hand, either in your car or gym bag.
Continue to hydrate
After those first two hours your body's metabolic processes will slow down, but the recovery process continues. Hydration is one of the most important factors during this time. Dehydration is the biggest wrench you can throw into that system. If your muscles aren't lubricated and pliable, they become ropey and tight and start to adhere to each other. That’s when the pain begins.
Get warm and dry quick
If you let your muscles get cold immediately after a hard workout, you'll miss out on your body's healing metabolic activity. Keep your muscles warm and loose until you find a few moments to stretch each of your major muscle groups.
Take time to unwind and loosen up
If your muscles are clenched, they're not recovering, so take time to relax after a run. Take advantage of the free massage often available at races. Once you get home, do some gentle stretching to help decrease that pain and soreness from all that repetitive pounding on your legs. All of these activities aid in your body's circulation, which facilitates a natural cycle of bringing new nutrients to over-worked parts of your body.
There's a growing concern in the medical community that overuse of anti-inflammatory medication can, over time, interrupt the body’s natural healing process. It can also cause a false sense of relief, so you're more likely to challenge yourself before you're recovered and ready. Aid your body in flushing out superfluous inflammation by drinking water and elevating your legs. There are also foods that promote an anti-inflammatory response in the body such as whole grains, beans, leafy greens, and healthy fats from avocados and nuts and wild-caught fish.
Now you have a plan to not only race well, but to recover quickly and get back on your feet in no time.
Lucas, J, Post-Run Recovery Tips, Running Times, August 2010, http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/post-run-recovery-tips
Gustafson, K, 7 Post-Race Recovery Tips, active.com, 2014, http://www.active.com/running/articles/7-post-race-recovery-tips
The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your doctor for appropriate health advice and guidance, including prior to starting a new diet or exercise program.