When training for a marathon, long runs aren’t just built into your training plan to torture and terrify you. They are some of the most critical workouts and necessary for a successful, strong race. If they’re so important to your training, then the recovery process following the run should be just as important. Here are some of my favorite post long run rituals that help reduce soreness and speed recovery.
Take it Off
Ice baths, recovery smoothies…brrrr. It all sounds so great, but so cold. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually freezing after finishing a long run. It makes sense: your body has been working so hard to cool itself off for hours while running, and then you just stop. But your body doesn’t know to just stop, and hanging out in your sweaty clothing makes it so much worse. Your first step should be to change into some warm, dry clothing. It makes a world of a difference.
Get Your “Om” On
In addition to running, I also practice ashtanga yoga. My practice has many purposes, but one major benefit is body awareness. I know what it feels like when I’m not sore and stiff, and I know what postures will help aid my body in the recovery process. While I don’t recommend unrolling your yoga mat after a 20 mile run and beginning the full primary series, I do recommend implementing a gentle stretching regimen. I use ashtanga’s primary series syllabus as a guide to stretch my hamstrings, hips, adductors, calves and feet. I start with some very modified sun salutations and spend extra time in postures like downward facing dog. I complete some of the standing sequence but use blocks, straps or any other beneficial props to make the postures accommodate my post long run needs. For the seated poses, I follow the traditional order but modify as necessary. If possible, I try to spend at least 30 minutes stretching. Don’t have a background in yoga? No problem. Stay tuned for some upcoming posts on post long run yoga postures.
For me, food is never a question. I love to eat. I often joke that the reason I started running was so I could maintain my eating habits. So the refueling part is a no brainer for me. It’s important to get something in your system as quickly as possible, usually within the 30 minutes after finishing your run. Try to pick something with lots of fluids, easily digestible carbohydrates, a little bit of protein, and some sodium for maximum recovery. I usually get a more substantial meal later in the day, but I try to get something in my system immediately to begin the recovery process. Most times, I go out for breakfast after my long run with my Saturday morning running crew and that does the trick. In the summer, I make lots of smoothies and often follow up a long run by whipping up something in my beloved Vitamix. In the hours (and days) after a long run, continue to choose a good mix of protein and carbs. Don’t forget or underestimate the importance of anti-inflammatory foods in your regular diet to help reduce inflammation naturally. These are a few of my favorite anti-inflammatory picks:
- Whole grains, olive oil, and nuts
- Fatty fish, flax seeds, and foods high in omega-3s
- Antioxidant rich veggies like leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes
- Antioxidant rich treats like berries, tart cherries, and chia seeds
- Spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric
Ice, Ice Baby
In the summer months, an ice bath is a no brainer. It’s hot out, your muscles are warm, so hopping into a tub full of ice doesn’t sound so terrible. But when the temperatures begin to drop, it’s tempting to put a stop to using an ice bath as a recovery method.
I try to get into an ice bath within 2-3 hours of my long run (even sooner, if possible). On my way home, I’ll stop and grab a few bags of ice, and toss them in my tub with cold water. To make it more bearable, wear a sweatshirt and bring along a cup of tea or hot chocolate. I only fill the tub with enough water to cover my legs, and I try to stay in for about 20 minutes. It does magical things for the recovery process!
Massage is a great tool for recovery and should be utilized if you can fit it into your schedule and/or your budget. I recommend going to someone who understands the needs of an endurance athlete so they can use the most appropriate techniques for your activity level. For example, it is not a good idea to go for a deep tissue massage following a marathon pace long run, and you should look for a massage therapist who understands your needs. Schedule your massage for a few hours (or wait until the next day) after your run and be sure to tell the massage therapist about what you did that day. If they specialize in working with athletes, they should know what you need the most.
Well, not literally. Immediately after a run, I’m a strong believer in the ice bath. I almost never recommend a hot bath after a run. However, if you really can’t bear the cold and really want to soak in a warm tub, try some Epsom salts. Personally, I do an ice bath the day of my run, and an Epsom salt bath the following day (or days) if I’m feeling the effects of the distance or intensity. Epsom salts are not just some old school home remedy, and there is plenty of research and science to back them up. It’s not actually salt, but a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate. The mineral helps relax skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which happens during vigorous workouts. When you soak sore muscles in Epsom salts, your body absorbs the magnesium and the sulfates through your skin. Magnesium also plays an important role in the absorption of vitamins in the body, and helps regulate muscle and nerve function. All of these effects significantly influence muscle soreness, which also affects muscle stiffness. An increase in your body’s magnesium levels can improve circulation, ease muscle pain, flush toxins and heavy metals from cells, improve nerve function and relieve stress.
It should really go without saying, but hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The day before a long run, I pay special attention to my hydration. I’m always mindful of it before I run, but I seem to forget about it afterwards. If you are sick of chugging plain old water, grab some coconut water. Some people think it tastes bitter, but I think it’s pretty amazing stuff. It has fewer calories, less sodium, and more potassium than a sports drink. It contains easily digested carbohydrate in the form of natural sugar and electrolytes.My favorite brand is C2O, pictured above. If you live locally, they sell it at Queens.
Sleep it Off
Long runs are the perfect excuse to refuel with your favorite meal and spend time pampering yourself, and that definitely includes napping. Make sure you hydrate before resting, or you could wake up with a nasty headache from dehydration. I find napping for a full hour to be the most helpful. I’m not too groggy to move on with the rest of my day, but I’m rested enough to get up and be productive.
Walk it Out
Post long run, it’s tempting to stay curled up on the couch all day and get caught up on your favorite shows. Especially in the chilly winter months. If you can, you should. But in between napping and channel surfing, get up every so often and move around. Throughout the day, get up and walk for 15-20 minute intervals to keep your muscles loose. Personally, I make a list of things I need to get done around my house and every time I get up for a “walk break”, I use it as time to check off a few items. Or, I plan to go to the grocery store and run some errands after a nap to make me move around. It doesn’t feel so bad once you’re up and moving.
Compress to Impress
They’re all the rage, dahling. I bought my first pair of compression sleeves about four years ago, after completing my second marathon. I started with a pair of black Zensah compression sleeves but quickly graduated to the ever popular CEP brand. CEP compression socks are considered “medical grade” and use the science behind medical compression to help athletes maximize performance and recovery. Compression socks are used by runners in attempt to recover from hard workouts and races as quickly as possible. Personally, I don’t wear them running, but I absolutely wear them around the house after my run. These snug-fitting, knee high socks help legs recover faster from a hard run by increasing circulation and reducing lactic acid build-up.
What are your favorite ways to recover from a long run?