Long distance running requires athletes to reach their maximum capacity and even tap into reserves. So what happens after we push our bodies to the limit?
Well, in response to stress the body releases hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Muscles accumulate massive amounts of lactic acid and hydrogen. During longer efforts also micro tears develop in muscle fibers. On top of that reserves of vitamins, minerals, water and energy are heavily taxed
The body needs to process and fix all of that to get back into ‘normal state’. So, everything we do during post-race recovery impacts how fast the body can be ready to operate at full capacity again.
Walking around; Keep the blood flowing by walking around for around 10 to 15 minutes post-race; then proceed to spend that same amount of time stretching. Stopping too soon after a long run might cause fainting or leg cramps, which can damage your muscle tissue.
Re-hydrate; during the race the body, most probably, has lost a lot of water through sweat, so it’s important to restore that balance as soon as possible. On a particularly hot day or during a long race the body also loses a lot of sodium through sweat. Decreased level of sodium prevents the body from absorbing the water, so it’s important to replenish that as well with an electrolyte tab or something salty.
Nutrition; A race means stress on your body. The longer the race – the more stress which is a lot of energy consumed. Therefore it’s essential to grab water and a healthy post-workout snack that that includes carbohydrates, protein and some healthy fats about 30-60 minutes after the race. This will help to replenish your glycogen storage and provide adequate fuel for muscle repair.
Rest; another key factor for a quick and healthy recovery is rest. Get some good sleep and preferably a few days of rest before you head out on the road again. The longer the distance of your race, the longer you should take time off. Jumping right into training too soon could increase your chance of injury. The general rule of thumb is to allow your body 1-3 days off for the half-marathon distance.
Stretching and massage; Studies suggest that massage can help reduce swelling and aid in muscle recovery. Stretching or using a foam roller can help ease muscle soreness, but it’s best to wait at least two hours after your run before you start loosening up.
Ice and Salt baths some runners also swear by their ice bath right after to decrease post-race pain and soreness. Cold reduces inflammation and will, therefore, improve blood flow to the muscles. Epsom salt (aka magnesium sulfate) bath has also been known to decrease post-race soreness. Do what feels good for you to allow a natural cycle of recovery to the overworked parts of your body.
Post-race exercise; There are several different post-race exercises that can help your muscles unwind, but among the best is swimming, walking, riding a stationary bike or taking an easy bike ride are also good options that improve blood circulation.