Tips for Post-Race Recovery

This past week on my Instagram account, I posted a series of running tips describing strategies I use to help with race recovery. Last week, I ran the Glen Clova Half Marathon, and my recovery started immediately after the race. If you’re looking for ways to help promote recovery, stave off illness and prevent injury, but you missed my Instagram series (or you’re not even on Instagram) don’t worry: here they are.

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  1. Rehydrate: both in the acute stage immediately after the race, but also in the days after. In the hours after a longer distance (10 miles+) race or run, you may feel sluggish and tired: this has nothing to do with exhaustion or the need to eat, and everything to do with dehydration. Fill your water bottle and start drinking that H2O! You’ll start to perk up and won’t need that nap you think you need. In the days following a race, rehydration is equally important. Continue to drink water regularly throughout the day, but don’t overdo it. Go by thirst, hunger pangs and tiredness – all are indications you may need water over food or a nap.

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2. Active Recovery: rather than using the week(s) after a race as a reason (excuse) to not do anything physical, get out there and start moving again! Low intensity, shorter duration physical activity helps reduce muscle soreness from racing. Going for an easy run, cycle, swim, even just for a walk gets the blood flowing again, which diminishes the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles.

Two post-race don’t’s:
– In the days after a race, don’t just sit or lie around – your muscle soreness will be prolonged. You may think you’re doing yourself a world of good, but you delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) will just be prolonged. And it doesn’t have to.
– Don’t jump right back into high intensity, long duration physical activity. Your duration of physical activity in the week after a race should be similar to the last week of your training programme taper: if your last run before a race was 20 minutes at easy pace, then you should do the same for your first run post-race. After last weekend’s 13.1, my first run was 3 miles at easy pace.

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3. Compression gear: namely tights, leg sleeves or socks. While the jury is still out whether compression gear truly promotes faster recovery, it does help to relieve muscle soreness, which helps promote active recovery. I changed into warmer clothes immediately post-race, and my 2XU compression tights were part of that. I kept them on for the rest of the day, along with my compressions socks, and the following day.

Compression clothing should never replace moving around in the days after a race, but instead complement your efforts to get back to normal.

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4. Heart rate: it’s one way you can tell your body has recovered from your race. You can only use this method to check your degree of recovery if you have a benchmark heart rate prior to your race, AND if you have a heart rate monitor, obviously! This can be done one of two ways:
–  Resting heart rate: After a race, and in the days and weeks following (depending on the distance you raced), your resting heart rate will be elevated, which is a sign you’re not fully recovered. You should only attempt any higher intensity, higher volume physical activity once your heart rate has returned to normal. This only works if you already know your normal resting heart rate, taken in the days or weeks before your actual race.

How do you even check your resting heart rate you ask? If you’re like me and have an older Garmin, you can pop on your heart rate monitor first thing in the morning, just after you wake up but still lying in bed. Once your Garmin has found your heart rate, lie in bed for at least a minute. At the end of the minute, record your heart rate. That is your resting heart rate. Polar users (and probably more sophisticated Garmin users) have a feature on the watch that guides you through this entire process.
180 Formula for training: If you’re like me and use the 180 Formula for training, then you’re used to training with your heart rate monitor, keeping it at the same rate throughout your run. ‘180’ is the magic number from which you subtract your chronological age; the number you’re left with is the heart rate at which you will train. I’m 35 years old, my heart rate for training is 145 bpm, which translates to about 10-10:30 minute miles. After a race, even though I could be running at that pace, my heart rate will be in the 150-160’s – a clear sign I’m not yet recovered. You’ll know you’re fully recovered once your heart rate is back to the normal range at the same pace during your recovery runs.

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5. Recovery duration: Did you know recovery periods exist? Roughly how many days should your recovery be? A major deciding factor is the number of miles raced – generally, each mile translates into one day of either rest or low volume, low intensity physical activity. If you’ve run a 10km, you should take it easy for a week. If you’ve run a marathon, although you might feel back to normal after a week, your body actually has a good month to recover. Allow your body this time before you get back into higher volume, higher intensity training – even racing – otherwise you’re putting yourself at increased risk for illness, but more importantly injury. You are also at risk of Over Training Syndrome if you ignore your necessary recovery period. Bear in mind, exercise and racing is a highly stressful event on your body, even if you see this act as stress-relieving. Be kind to your body and let it recover fully and appropriately.

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These tips aside, it goes without saying that a well-formulate (preferably paleo) diet also helps promote recovery. Sure, having a post-race celebratory meal is fine, especially if the race was a big deal, but don’t use racing as an excuse for a period of post-race bingeing – again, you’ll do yourself more harm than good.

What strategies do you use to recover from races effectively?

What’s your favourite brand of compression clothing?

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5 thoughts on “Tips for Post-Race Recovery

  1. Great tips. My strategy is pretty much the same as yours, but I also like to take a nice bath to relax my muscles and help me sleep. This has now become my Sunday night habit since Sunday is my long run day. I also make sure to not just hydrate, but take on electrolytes well as I’m a “salty sweater”. If I don’t, then I crave crisps because my body wants salt!
    We also share a favourite compression brand in 2XU, although I’m also quite keen on my CWX tights as they’re a bit thicker so great for long runs on cold days.

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