Congratulations! You’ve done it…it’s a mighty achievement to complete a running race. Your mind is on cloud nine with that quintessential ‘runners high’ as you cross the finish line but your body may be speaking a different language all-together.
Here you will find some great expert recovery tips to help your body bounce back and get you training for that next big event. But first, let’s explore what to expect after your race.
What to expect after your race
Distance running challenges your physical and mental limits by putting your body under an extended and constant strain. More specifically, your muscles are depleted of various fuel sources and microscopic tears form in the tissue. Don’t worry, this is normal. This damage requires sufficient rest to enable repair (and ultimately, improvement via adaptation) to ensure you are ready to start training for another race or at least able to function properly over the following days.
If you’re an experienced distance runner, you will know the ‘feelings’, both mental and physical you experience after a race. But for those of you competing an endurance race for the first time (whether that’s a running race, a Spartan-like obstacle race, an adventure race or another challenge) here are some truths you will soon learn.
Stiff and sore
Do not be surprised – you will feel stiff and sore, where walking normally may be difficult.
Why does this happen?
Inflammation in your muscles, tendons and ligaments is the response to cell damage and is part of your bodies’ natural defence mechanism. You can naturally reduce this inflammation as a first line of recovery by doing a light cool down, wearing compression garments, drinking plenty of water, elevating your legs and consuming anti-inflammatory foods. Whole grains, healthy fats from avocados and nuts, leafy greens, and fatty fish like wild salmon and tuna promote an anti-inflammatory response in the body, without interfering with the reactionary inflammation that warns you of deeper issues or injury. Avoid being instantly tempted to reach for the anti-inflammatory medication, as this is part of the normal healing process. Over use of these medications can offer a false sense of relief, where you can be fooled into challenging yourself prior to being adequately recovered.
1. Do a recovery run or walk and consider wearing compression socks
After crossing the finish line, you will often see people immediately sit down. You want to avoid this by continuing to move and allow your body to cool down sufficiently. You will be dehydrated, especially given the humid environment and have a lot of metabolic by-products (namely lactic acid) circulating. If you gently jog or walk as a cool down exercise, you will give your body a chance to clear some of these chemicals and reduce overall soreness.
While very little scientific evidence exists, wearing compression socks has been widely reported amongst all levels of athletes to help with residual muscle soreness. They act to help improve circulation, again aiding in the removal of metabolic waste.
2. Rehydrate within 30-60 minutes of your race
Dehydration is a common phenomenon during endurance events and while it may directly affect your performance during the race, it will also impede your recovery. You lose both water and salts when you sweat. Less water in your system reduces your blood volume, which in turn heightens the effect of metabolic waste circulating through your body, which may lead to muscle cramping and excessive soreness. Ideally you should rehydrate within the first 30 to 60 minutes after your race, using water and electrolyte drinks.
3. Refuel within 30-60 minutes of your race
The last thing you generally feel like in the time immediately after a race is a 3-course meal. You may even have experienced a little gastrointestinal distress from an overload of sugars or alternatively you may have ‘bonked’ (hit the wall or felt flat) during the race due to lack of nutrition. However, it is very important to replenish your depleted glycogen stores with carbohydrates for your cells to adequately function and protein for muscle repair to begin. Whole foods are best, but studies have suggested that chocolate milk has a carbohydrate to protein ratio that mirrors most recovery bars and has shown to diminish factors of muscle damage. Plus, there’s always the opportunity for you to take a post run milk-moustache selfie!
Prioritise rest and sleep over the days following your race. Don’t underestimate the toll that pounding the pavement and pushing your body for any distance takes on your whole body and mind. Following these recovery tips may have you feeling fine, but don’t rush back into hard running as you will pay a price, which could result in injury. Swimming, walking and cycling are great ways to ease back into training.
5. Have a massage/rub
Treat yourself to a light massage within the few days post race. It can help increase blood flow and flush metabolic by-products into your lymphatic system for removal which helps reduce any inflammation and swelling. Having a professional massage is best but you can also do it yourself using your fingertips like a comb to compress and stroke your muscles in the direction back to your heart, or using a foam roller.
6. Reward yourself
Reward and celebrate your efforts! Be proud that you are among a select community of people who have completed a running race. While a celebratory drink is fine, please also be aware that you need to be cautious with alcohol intake after an endurance race as alcohol causes further dehydration and will impede your recovery.
So for best race recovery remember the 6 ‘R’s
- RECOVERY WALK/RUN – Go for a light jog or walk before heading off to celebrate your finish.
- REHYDRATE – Drink plenty of water and remember to replace electrolytes
- REFUEL – Enjoy a wholefood meal consisting of carbohydrate and protein soon after your race to replenish your muscle glycogen and start the muscle repair process. If this isn’t possible a chocolate milkshake or recovery bar will help.
- REST – Prioritise rest and sleep over the following days. Don’t rush back into hard running. Swimming, walking and cycling are great ways to ease back into training
- RUB – treat yourself to a massage in the few days post-race.
- REWARD – A celebratory drink is ok, but don’t overdo it as alcohol will impede your recovery.