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No matter what level of runner you happen to be, how you recover from your runs is just as important as your warm up for your run and the type of training you follow. Every time you run, your muscles and tissues are temporarily damaged, your body and mind are fatigued and may crave rest to restore their natural balance. Not only that, your body also gets dehydrated, and your energy tanks are depleted.
As a result, as a runner, you need to address all of these physical and mental aspects to ensure proper recovery.
I’ve not been good at this element of running, and I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons that, up until a few years ago, I was getting injured about once a year having to take off time running. Which, if you’re like me, just absolutely stinks.
When we talk about post-run recovery, we probably also need to make sure you’ve set yourself up for this recovery both before and during your run so we’ll quickly address these areas as well.
Before your run, especially if you are running more than 5 miles you should make sure you do the following:
- If you eat before your run, which I advise for longer runs, make sure you do so about 3 hours before you run in order to for you food to digest and provide you with the necessary energy. You should also eat something easy to digest; like a banana, yogurt, dried fruit or toast with peanut butter or honey
- Make sure you hydrate, drinking at least 8 ounces of water about 30 minutes before you head out for a run
- Do a slow jog for your warm up, and follow this with some dynamic stretching
During your run, they are some things you can do that will aid your post-run recovery making it more efficient and effective; including:
- Start out slow, building your pace as you go along; this will help you stave off the leg fatigue and make your recovery easier
- Hydrate and fuel during your longer runs
- Make sure you are running with good shoes, by monitoring the number of miles your shoes have; once they hit 300 or so miles, they will begin to lose their cushioning and it’s time to consider a new pair
After your run, here is a list of 8 things you can do to assist in making your recovery more effective; improve your performance; and avoid injury:
- Cool down
Don’t finish your run, and then simply go on to the next thing on your list; too many people I see finish their run, jump in their cars and leave. Instead, do a gentle cool down, such as a light 15 minute jog or even just a gentle walk and some stretches. A proper cool down is an important first step to kick-starting your recovery process; it helps your body recover, reduces muscle soreness and keeps you moving without seizing up.
You’ve lost water, minerals and electrolytes during your run (although, if you hydrate during your run as suggested you can limit this loss). Regardless, taking on fluids as soon as you can to replenish these will help you avoid cramps and put your body on the road to recovery. I have actually tracked roughly how much water weight I lose per hour of running, and make sure I replenish at least that much within 2 hours of my run. And, there is always the urine test; if your urine is bright yellow, you are dehydrated and need to replenish your fluids.
I’m terrible about this, but making sure you refuel after your run and to do this within roughly 30 minutes of your run is absolutely critical. You should make sure you get a good mix of carbs, protein and some healthy fat with this snack; these nutrients will help repair damage done during your run and speed up your recovery. Good snack ideas include a banana, dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, an egg white omelet with spinach and some fresh fruit.
Stretching can help with post-run recovery but can also help improve your mood and reduce stress by releasing endorphins. After your run try spending 15 - 30 minutes stretching your legs, back and upper body out; you’ll be amazed at how good your body will feel. It also has the added benefit of increasing you flexibility and range of motion.
- Refuel AGAIN
Following on from your post-run snack, within 2–3 hours you should try a have a larger balanced meal. Try to focus on protein or a big veggie push, such as a veggie-packed omelette or a salmon or steak. Veggies are great at reducing inflammation, and this balanced meal will help your recovery.
- Rehydrate AGAIN
When you have your larger balanced meal, check out your hydration level; is your mouth a little dry; is your urine still a bright yellow. If so, make sure your rehydrate yourself throughout the day, especially after a particularly hard run.
I generally do my long runs on Saturdays, and have started to add a mid-afternoon nap into my recovery plan and absolutely love how I feel waking up from this nap. Even if you’re not able to add in a nap, make sure you get a good nights sleep before any strenuous run and definitely after one. That night, soak in a bath and rub out any soreness in your body before you sleep and you’ll further the benefits for your recovery.
- Rest and recover
If you’ve completed an especially long run don’t dive straight back into your normal training routine as your body will likely need a bit more time for recovery. However, it’s important that you keep active and do some light exercise — such as a gentle cross training on the bike or a swim, and changing up the activity can also be a good break to your routine. Once your body feels better you can build up the training again and avoid injuries.
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.