Work Hard, Recover Harder: Part One

What you Need to Know About Recovering After Endurance Training

Monday Night Miles with CSRD. Photo by David Oh, @thisisdizzle

One of the questions that comes up after my races is, "what is your recovery plan?". If you think about it, when you sign up for an endurance event, you don't think twice about researching various training guides or mapping out your training schedule. In fact, if you are anything like me you do LOTS of research. I have spent hours searching the web and reading through different programs both for workouts and nutrition when it comes to races, but I have honestly spent very little time investigating how to properly recover.

As a runner this post will be geared toward marathon and triathlon recovery.  As a reminder every body is different and every recovery is different.  You will need to find what works well for you, your schedule, and your budget.  I am going to focus on recovery immediately after you cross that finish line and the week that follows.  

Part 1: Immediately Post-Race

First off... way to go you bad-A.  I hope you smile and celebrate because you checked off a big, amazing SUMMIT.  Now let's chat about the hours post-celebration.  

Cool It

After you cross the finish line it's important to keep moving your body.  You need to bring that heart rate down and cool down properly.  Continuing to move, by walking or a light jog will also help keep lactic acid from accumulating in your muscle.  TBH...I have never jogged after a marathon or this recent Ironman, but most races are set up so you are kind of forced to walk.   You have to go to gear check or maybe reunite with your loved ones, great! Use that time to cool down.  After a long race, Runner's World recommends 20 minutes.  

Treat Yo Self

Refuel that bodice of yours.  You just ran your ass off, quite literally (#runnerproblems).  I struggle with this part.  The last thing I want to do right after crossing that finish line is to stuff my face.  It is actually more common than you would think and there is science to back it up.   A study looked at how energy deficits through exercise or reduced caloric intake  can impact compensatory responses.  The short story: a caloric restriction through diet causes you to be more hungry than one induced by exercise.   Ghrelin, a hormone that usually stimulates you to feel hungry, is also decreased when you exercise.  That's all great, but it is still important to fuel up after that finish in order to repair muscle damage and replenish glycogen stores.  There are lots of different articles that get into the nitty gritty of how many calories or what ratio of carbs/protein you should eat.  I won't get into that, but generally there are goodies waiting for you at the finish so snag a bite and enjoy it!    

A few of my favorite carbohydrate and protein combos post-run:

  • Bananas and chocolate milk
  • Protein Bars, the Clif Builder Bar is at most races and tastes pretty great
  • Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Picky Bars or straight up dates with nut butter
    More on nutrition here.

Stretch and More

General rule of thumb, wait at least a couple of hours before you stretch and foam roll.  Wait at least a couple of days before you schedule a massage.  There is a great article on Active that breaks down the benefits and timing of massages down in more detail.   After marathons, I follow this rule but for the half Ironman I scheduled the massage for 24 hours later.  I was a bit nervous, but the most important advice I would give is to communicate with your massage therapist.  If they know that you just completed a race, they can adjust the intensity of the massage and help facilitate the recovery process.  

For massages, I go to Lux Collective in Seattle and work with an amazing therapist.  I schedule an hour of a deep tissue massage and legitimately melt into the table.   Prior to the wildness of recent months, I scheduled massages once a month minimum.  In my opinion, your wellness is something you should invest in now in order to plan for a healthier future.  If you are able to pay race registrations fees and splurge on running brands, chances are you can afford a 60-minute massage.  Weekly massages are not in my budget, but once a month either 3-5 days before a race or after a hard run, I definitely make it a priority.  

Other recovery hacks, include ice baths and elevating your legs.  These I would recommend same day as the race.  It will help lymphatic flow and hopefully move those toxins out of your body faster.   You want vasoconstriction via the ice bath immediately after the race, but a few days later warm baths, which act as a vasodilator are preferred.  

Another quick read from Runner's World linked here.  

Disclaimer: This post is a summary of various articles and literature.  I tried to include any links in the text above.   If you are feeling pain or anything more severe than discomfort after a race, please see your doctor immediately.  Sore is different from pain and you should make sure to have any pain addressed.