So much preparation and training goes into preparing for a race, but what about recovering from a race? Recovery is super important to keep you healthy, injury-free, and ready to run again sooner! Here is some simple advice on recovering from a race, as well as what works for me personally. The longer the race, the more important your recovery plan will be to keep you feeling good in the hours and days post running. Let me know your tips in the comments! 🙂
The Hydration Equation
Immediately after you finish your race, you’re going to be thirsty. There’s a reason there’s water available at most races right after the finish line…but there’s also a reason there is usually some kind of sports drink available as well. When you sweat, you’re not just losing water, you’re also losing salt and other electrolytes like calcium, magnesium and potassium, which also need to be replenished. Sports drinks typically have a specific ratio of salts and electrolytes to replenish what you’ve lost. If you can’t stomach sports drinks, try drinking coconut water, which is high in potassium, as well as eating a salty food like pretzels. The longer the race, the more important this balance becomes. Often, you’ll see salt packets available before long races like the marathon, with the advice to eat one packet before running, to offset the salt loss that happens while you’re running.
Along with replacing water and electrolytes, it’s important to replenish carbohydrates, since your body uses its glycogen stores to fuel your run. Protein is also important to begin the body’s muscle repair, but the accepted ratio for carbohydrates to protein replenishment following an endurance event is 4:1. What’s an easy way to ingest this 4:1 ratio? Chocolate milk. Mmmmm….chocolate. Ideally, you want to eat or drink this 4:1 ratio fuel within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing your event.
Stretch & Roll
After running the NYC Marathon last week (shameless race name-dropping!!), there was no collapsing in a heap just past the finish line. Instead, runners were kept moving along by volunteers, as we walked for at least another 20 to 30 minutes post-finish, keeping the blood circulating in order to aid muscle repair. As for post-race stretching…it’s not really going to help with making you feel less sore. Sorry. (In fact, a systematic review of 43 studies on post-exercise stretching overwhelmingly found that stretching has little to no effect on DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness). But guess what? It feels good to stretch. So go ahead and stretch those tired legs out.
A better way to aid muscle recovery is to break out your trusty foam roller, or get yourself a gentle post-race massage. This again will help with blood flow to the muscles, helping recovery.
Ice, Ice Baby
It turns out I am way too wimpy to try an ice bath. I had grand plans of doing the cold bath with ice cubes in it when I got home after the marathon, but after walking in the chilly wind with my poncho wrapped tight around me, I decided that was an INSANE idea and a hot shower sounded much, much better. If I had been a little braver, an ice bath probably would have helped reduce inflammation and tissue swelling, as well as possibly increase oxygen delivery and decrease lactic acid in the muscles. (I take comfort in the fact that there is no definitive answer from a medical study as to whether they’re truly effective, though.)
Another somewhat anecdotal way of aiding recovery from a race is to use compression gear (typically compression socks). Just like the ice bath suggestion, compression gear is supposed to help with oxygen delivery to the muscles and help decrease lactic acid. Medical-grade compression tights are used for preventing deep vein thrombosis and increasing circulation in bed-ridden patients, so it seems to follow that compression garments for runners would be helpful as well. While research is fuzzy on whether they actually work, many runners swear by their socks and tights for post-race recovery.
What Works For Me
An ideal recovery for me goes like this: After a race, or a long run, I do a warm down of walking for a while, drinking some water as I walk. I then do some static stretching for about 10 minutes, just because it feels good. I follow that up with about 10 minutes of foam rolling. I eat a snack, usually a chocolate milk, or a banana with peanut butter if I can stomach it, then I hop into the shower. (Hot. Remember, I’m a wimp).
After the marathon this year, I walked for probably about 45 minutes after the race, stopping to stretch once along the way. I ate salted pretzels, granola and dried fruit and washed it all down with water. I got home, took a hot shower, more water and a delicious, delicious beer. (CARBS… right?) Then we went out for dinner and I ate everything in sight! 😉 (Including chocolate mousse. CARBS… right?)
How do you recover from a race?
What’s the one thing you could never do without as part of your recovery?