You’ve spent the past twelve weeks training your heart out for your race. Now it’s come and gone and it is time to recover. So what’s your plan? Do you even have one?
Did you know having a recovery plan is just as important as having a training plan? That’s right! Recovery is actually a part of training and holds just as much importance as your long runs, speed workouts, and tempos. Proper recovery allows our bodies and minds to reset, refuel, and improve for our next race. If you’re someone who does not typically take the time necessary to recover, you are not alone. Most runners tend to under-recover rather than over-train. When you don’t properly recover, you set yourself up for fatigue, aches, pains, and declines in speed and strength, just to name a few. So how can you plan to recover? Here are a few tips to try.
Cooldown! As soon as possible, jog or walk slowly for 10-15 minutes and perform some static stretching for the major muscles of your legs and core (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, hips, groin). This will help flush lactic acid from your muscles and prompt the repair process. Chow down! The 30-60 minute period after the race known as the “Golden Hour” is an important time to refuel. This is the window of time for optimal nutrient absorption. Fluids, carbohydrates, and a little protein are key to help replenish the nutrients that your body used during your race and optimize muscle repair. A light snack like a peanut butter sandwich, banana, and lots of water is a good choice. If your stomach can’t handle food, a sports drink specific for recovery can work as well. In fact, studies have shown that low-fat chocolate milk is as effective as sports drinks for recovery! Chill! Depending on the length of your run, you may want to soak your legs in a cold bath, pool, or even just hose them off with cold water. This helps constrict blood vessels and muscle tissue and prevents blood from pooling in your legs. 10-15 minutes of cooling should do the trick.
The Next 24 Hours:
For the 24 hours that follow the race there are two things to try and avoid: sitting for extended periods of time and alcohol consumption. As badly as you may just want to crash and burn on your sofa, try to avoid sitting for long periods of time. Get up and move around every 20-30 minutes. If you need to travel immediately after a race, take standing and stretching breaks to help keep your muscles from getting too tight and cramping. It’s also important to continue to properly nourish and hydrate your body 24 hours after the race. These are the hours your body will be restoring glycogen. Your glycogen levels are essentially your fuel reserves. After racing, these stores are lowered and sometimes fully depleted, depending on the length and intensity of your race. Taking in good-quality carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, fruits, and vegetables can help replenish glycogen stores. It is also key to continue to hydrate well. That means drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol, since its diuretic qualities can cause dehydration.
REST from RUNNING! There is typically no appreciable fitness to be gained if you force yourself to stumble through a run the day after a race; you are putting yourself at high risk of injury. No matter how slow or short, try to avoid running. You typically hear for every mile you race, take one day off from running. That’s right, if you run a marathon, that is 26 days off of running. This is a good rule of thumb but it does depend on your fitness level; if you are a high-mileage runner to begin with, then you may be okay to lace up a few days sooner. For some, taking several days off of running may be more difficult for the mind than the body. Be sure to have a post-race workout plan combining some low-impact cardio (swimming, biking, elliptical, etc.) plus strength training and stretching to keep your need to move satisfied without pounding the pavement. Be sure to keep the intensity low-to-moderate for at least the first week. This is the time that essential glycogen stores are being replenished in your muscles and if your workout intensity is too high, this will slow the recovery process. Your final take-home message is that recovery plans should be flexible! No two runs are exactly the same. Even if you run the same course, nature, your diet, and especially LIFE can change how that run feels and affects your body. The bottom line: have a general plan set in place and if your body is telling you it needs more time, let it help guide you from there. Oh, and enjoy the break!