Stop. Savor the achievement. This moment after finishing your run, practice or otherwise, is a something to be proud about. This is the moment when you get that natural high experienced runners talk about.
Why You Need To Recover Properly
After you have relished this moment, there are several must-do recovery steps that can help your body from aching and feeling sore. Doctors highly recommend adopting some form of recovery process because it will prevent injuries, make you a stronger runner, and able to get back on the track quicker.
Some of the physical changes that occur while running that need to be addressed during the recovery phase include:
- The increase in body temperature can cause cramps, dizziness, nausea, and dehydration
- The increase in heart rate which can put too much pressure on your heart
- The increase in brain temperature that can cause disorientation, make you feel chills, or lose control over your footing and form
- The increase in oxygen demand that can compromise your respiratory function and cause dizziness and overworked lungs
- Heat loss from blood vessel dilation which can cause pain and cramps
- Temporary weight loss because of increase in metabolism and sweat loss that can lead to dehydration. This puts a strain on your muscles that have to compensate for the burning of your energy
- Joint pain and stiffness from the pounding especially if you ran on a hard surface
Our Top Marathon Recovery Tips in Stages
Here is an excellent 4 stage marathon recovery process that works extremely well for both short and long runs.
Stage 1 – The First 30 Minutes after a Run
Keep moving. You don’t have to keep running or jogging but you should avoid dropping to the ground and resting. This is standard with all athletes and dancers. It’s called the “warm down” period. If your run was not very long, you can shorten this period to 10 or 15 minutes. Walk around. Get your personal items together. Collect your medal as a finisher.
This is also the time your body can use to restore its glycogen (glucose) and protein levels. You can do this by eating something small with up to 400 calories like raisins, a banana, bagel, bread, or protein bar and drinking 750ml water or Gatorade.
Stage 2 – The First 3 Hours After Running
Do some stretching after you slowed down to a walk and have had a small snack and some water. You can also get a massage but limit this to 10 minutes maximum. The full massage should wait until the next day. Before stretching, put on a pair of compression socks or stockings to help increase blood flow to your muscles. Compression socks help the effects of gravity by directing blood flow towards the heart and reducing risk of blood clots and blood pooling around the legs, ankles, and feet.
As you get your 10 minute massage and after, keep taking liquids and observe your urine. One of the signs of hydration is clear urine. And continue to take carb-based meals for the next 24 hours except be sure to keep the meals small but frequent and enjoy some Greek yoghurt, turkey sandwiches, hummus with your bread.
The Ice Bath Debate
Some experts recommend ice baths, others balk at the idea. The ice bath debate argues that ice baths, while soothing, can short circuit the inflammation/healing process which is part of training and this can compromise adaptation. However, ice baths are soothing and a morale booster which is why it is recommended by some. The bottom line though is that ice baths should be part of training, not part of the recovery process.
Experts like running coach Emily Harrison recommend ice baths only when you feel really “beaten up” that your training starts to suffer and it should be done several days in a row. She also recommends more ice baths the closer you are to your marathon event because the ice freshens legs and adds a certain strut to your stride that can help you feel motivated for your run.
Stage 3 – The Day After and Up to 7 Days After a Run
Twenty-four hours after your race is the time to start building your immune system and this involves paying special attention to your nutrition. The quick solution to muscle repair is eating and taking the following:
- Lean protein like chicken and fish
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Vitamin supplements
You should also continue having regular massages and doing stretching sessions focusing primarily on your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and calves. Avoid running and other medium to high impact activities even if it is “just for fun.” Instead go swimming, walking, or cycling.
Stage 4 – Weeks Two to Four After a Major Run
You can start light running if you feel your body is ready. However, it is best not to gauge yourself based on how you feel because you probably are still on a high from having joined a major run. In fact, fatigue usually sets in only on the second week.
Slowly building up to a normal training schedule will depend on how tired you feel after every run. If the fatigue remains, keep it light and only gradually increase the intensity when you don’t feel battered. Most people, not all, get back into their normal running groove after 4 weeks but this is not a contest, so don’t rush through the recovery process. Listen to your body.