On Sunday October 16, 2011 I ran my 6th half marathon, the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in Toronto. Despite numerous injuries while training, I ran a personal best; completing the race in 2:05 I sprinted the last 200m and felt strong crossing the finish line. Now I was ready to meet up with friends, eat a great breakfast and start the recovery process. Anyone who’s ever run a half marathon knows that recovery begins the moment you cross that finish line. Here are a few tips for a speedy and efficient half marathon recovery.
Keep moving after your race. Walking at an easy pace allows the body to come down more gradually and circulates blood back to normal distribution quantities and regions in the body. It also prevents fainting and blood pooling in the legs that occurs if you immediately sit down post race. It also allows your body to process the lactic acid that builds up during the race.
Within the first few minutes consume a sports drink like Gatorade to increase blood sugar levels and replenish electrolyte levels in your system. Eating salty foods like pretzels will also boost electrolyte levels. Restoring your fluid balance is a critical part of the recovery process.
Ice your sore muscles
Taking an ice bath within a few hours, or even a few days, after your half marathon can help speed up your recovery. Fill the bath with lukewarm water, grab your rubber ducky and then add some ice cubes. If you can’t tolerate an ice bath or don’t have access to a bathtub, fill a pail or garbage can with ice and water and at least ice down your feet and lower legs. Use ice packs on sore areas, such as your quads and knees.
Eat a healthy diet
Within the first 30 minutes post race, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates, lean protein and low in fat. The carbs will replenish the glycogen stores depleted in the race and protein will help rebuild muscle tissue damage. Consuming fuel post-race is vital for an efficient recovery process. Delayed post race fuelling can result in adding days to the recovery process. The body is very receptive to fuel absorption within 60 – 90 minutes of finishing a race. I find it difficult to eat right after a race because I have no appetite. A Recovery Drink such as Cliff Recovery or Gatorade Recovery Drink has a mix of carbohydrates and protein so it is an optimal way to consume nutrients quickly without having to eat. Continue eating carbohydrate-rich foods for the next two days post race to adequately replace depleted glycogen stores.
Resist the urge to race or run hard
Give your muscles a break and an opportunity to repair themselves. It takes about two weeks to fully recover from a half marathon. Although the stiffness subsides in a few days there is still internal healing happening and running too soon increases the chance of an injury down the road. The general rule of thumb is to take one day off for every mile run however if you do feel the need to run sooner try not to do any long intense run during this time. Stick to shorter, easy runs or cross training activities such as swimming, cycling or yoga.
Sleep and Rest
Sleep is crucial for the recovery process. Take a 20 minute nap 2-4 hours after eating post race. Your body absorbs food in your stomach more readily while you’re sleeping and this will speed healing. Listen to your body and don’t feel guilty about sleeping a lot, it’s normal. Think of sleep and rest as an investment in your future performance.
Massage is a great relief for your muscle pain and stiffness. Just make sure the therapist is gentle. You can also do self-massage using a massage tool such as a foam roller. I actually know a runner who uses a rolling pin on her calves after running.
Beat the blues
You’ve trained so hard, scheduled your life around your running, and now you’ve accomplished your goal. It’s normal and actually quite common to feel down and disconnected after the excitement of the race has ended. The best way to get over the post race blues is to set a new goal. Give yourself a few weeks to recover and pick out another race. It doesn’t have to be another half marathon. Maybe run shorter distances, like a 5k or 10k race or perhaps think about a full marathon.
Savour your accomplishment
Keep reminding yourself of what an incredible feat you’ve accomplished. Look at your pictures or video from the race and share them with friends and family to relive the day. Remember all the hard work you put into training and as a result what it felt like to be a part of something amazing especially once you crossed that finish line.