Recovering After The Long Run

About three weeks have passed since my last half-marathon — and you know what? I feel like I’m still recovering. Throughout those three weeks, I have been doing a few short runs, but I felt sluggish and fatigued from early on during those runs. It makes me think back to the day of my last half-marathon. And what I did during that time as a stepping stone towards recovering. (Or, perhaps, what I didn’t do that is hindering my recovery.)

Immediately after the Hot Cider Hustle, Travis and I walked back to our hotel room. I spent a little time stretching, a few minutes with my legs up, but mostly, I celebrated. I took pictures of my medal, blabbed to Travis about how great the run was and how good I was feeling. It was a total 360° from the previous half-marathon just a month earlier.

After jumping through the shower to rinse off, we headed out to eat with some friends who live in Green Bay. I hydrated well with a bunch of water at the restaurant but the food I ate probably could have been better. (I guess a bourbon cheeseburger isn’t the greatest for a recovering half-marathoner – but it was delicious!)

After touring our friend’s new house for a while after lunch, Travis and I hopped back in the car for the hour and a half ride home. Once home, we unpacked the car and crashed on the couch for the rest of the night.

But the next day, I still felt great. I wasn’t terribly sore or tired. And I did have off of work, so I didn’t have to get up too early or have to do ANYTHING really. That night I did play some sand volleyball like every Monday night, but still felt good.

But a few days later, my first recovery run was not fun. I felt slow, sluggish, and could not find my stride. I contributed it to the weather. Or to having to work all day. And my fueling has been poor (to be honest, I had still been in post half-marathon eat everything mode).

But the next time I headed out, it was the same thing. I could not hit my stride. My legs felt tired and heavy the entire time. And it took all I had to finish the two miles.

Two miles? How is two miles difficult? You just ran 13 miles last weekend, I thought to myself. But I didn’t recover right. It made me realize exactly how important recovering properly is after a long distance run.

Recovering Post Long Run

Each person has their own way of recovering after a long distance run. These are a few things that I have been trying to incorporate after long distance runs.

  • Legs Up

Flipping your legs up against a wall is one of the easiest ways to help start recovery. Not only does it help relax you after a run, but it does offer some stretching of tight hamstrings post run. Putting your legs up can also help reduce inflammation and reduce the workload on the heart. (The heart doesn’t have to pump so hard to return blood from the lower body back to your heart.) 

  • Post Run Fuel

Fueling right after a long run is vitally important. Replacing what your body expended during the effort helps to kickstart the healing process. The right balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can help repair the little micro tears that occur during strenuous exercise. Ideally, you should try to consume this meal within an hour of your long run. (I really struggle with this — I get “rungry” and want to eat EVERYTHING in sight.)

  • Rehydrate

Along with the right post running meal, you should rehydrate with plenty of water. You need to replace the fluids that are lost through perspiration. Sports drinks are ok, but watch the sugar content in them. And while it is to important to also replace the electrolytes that are included  in said sports drinks, nothing beats plain old H20.

Some people, myself included, wear compression gear during their long run. If not, try putting on those compression socks or sleeves immediately after your long run. Once again, the compression helps to reduce inflammation by helping the blood flow back to the heart easier. It’s also an easy, transportable way to provide some relief to tired legs if you don’t have time to stretch or put your legs up.

  • Stretching/Yoga/Foam Rolling

Nothing beats some slight stretching after a long distance run. Running is a constant shortening and lengthening of your muscles (especially those in your legs). Show them some love by stretching immediately after your run and in the days to follow your long run. Yoga and/or foam rolling also helps release some tension and provides some self massage in the days after a long run as well.

  • Ice Bath/Cold Water Leg Soak

Even though this isn’t the most pleasant feeling, soaking your legs in an ice bath (or cold water if you just can’t stand the ice) is another great way to reduce inflammation. A word of caution when soaking in icy water — don’t sit for too long in the cold water. Although it helps reduce inflammation, it can also reduce circulation if exposed too long – which prevents recovery. 

  • Rest

Rest days are vitally important to recovering well. If you push your body too quickly, you risk injury. Instead, enjoy some days run free and use them to explore other forms of easy exercise. Walking, yoga, and swimming are all ways to stay active but reduce impact on joints and help muscles repair.

  • Slow Recovery Run

When you are finally feeling like your body is ready to head out for another run, it should be a slow, easy one. Don’t worry about your time. Just run what feels good. This first time out allows you to feel how your body is recovering without the pressure of having a “good time”. And it allows you to work out the kinks that you might be feeling. 

As always, it’s important to listen to your body. Your first run after your long distance race shouldn’t have a set time or distance. Instead, just do what feels right. And give some of these recovery tips a try and see if they make your next long distance recovery a little shorter.

  1. What do you do to recover after longer runs?
  2. How do you keep your appetite in check?
  3. Tell me about your fall races!

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