After you finish a marathon or other long distance run, your first thought might be, 'should I have that cheesecake before, after or for dinner?'. Other than that, your recovery strategy may simply be to extract your running shoes as quickly as humanly possible and curl up on the couch for the next 3 days/weeks/months.
So, what is the most effective way to recover quickly after a race? While understandable, doing nothing - or whatever you feel like - may not be the best option. Here are some helpful recovery steps you can take right after crossing the finish line; for the rest of that day, and in the days ahead.
Immediately after the Race
WOOHOO! You did it and you're absolutely buzzing (Runner's High)!! After an excited/emotional hug with your bestie or sweetheart, your next moves are to:
Sip some water - Resist the urge to throw it back like you've been living in a desert the last 5 years - coughing and spluttering is not ideal right now.
Warm up - You'll probably get cold very quickly so wrap up in something to keep your body temperature from dropping rapidly i.e. jumper/blanket.
Eat something - At the end of long distance races you will usually be offered a piece of fruit i.e. banana - you might not feel like eating immediately but grab a few pieces and take them with you to eat shortly after.
Change into some warm, soft, dry clothes - In addition to some comfy clothes your recently swollen feet will appreciate some soft socks and roomy shoes.
Elevate your feet - After a quick change, try and lay down and get your feet up. After several hours of hard work, your body needs help facilitating blood flow. If you're not well enough to be alone have someone keep an eye on you. Ideally keep your feet up for 15-25 minutes, and if possible repeat this several more times during the day.
Rest of the Day
Freshen up - A shower or bath will rejuvenate you (almost feel human again!) and brings to your attention any race-induced injuries you may have (like chafing, ouch). If possible, consider a cool or even cold bath to help promote recovery. Note: this may not be pretty.
Nutrition - When you're ready to eat, focus on a proper meal. Remember if you're planning on hitting the local café for lunch, 4,000 race-goers may have had the same idea, so take snacks just in case! Whether you have something to eat at home, or out and about, try to keep your meal reasonably healthy and drink lots of water.
Celebration - You've definitely earned the right to party, but don't go crazy. Your body is still running on fumes, and adding alcohol and lots of time standing around can be fun, but won't help recovery. If your friends want to shout you a drink, tell them you'll take an IOU for next time and head home.
Sleep - Chances are you'll be so shattered that falling asleep will come easy; the problem is you'll be so sore that staying asleep could be harder than you think. Stock the bedside table with a large bottle of water and some healthy snacks. Feel free to hit the snooze button in the morning.
The Days Ahead
Keep Moving - Whether it's a light walk, an easy dip in the pool or a short spin on the bike, any of these activities will increase your blood circulation, which will help flush out metabolic waste and get oxygen and nutrients flowing to your muscles again. Frequent rest will be needed, but resist the urge to do nothing but rest while awake. If you're an average to good runner, you may feel better after a short jog. However, no matter how good you feel, limit yourself to only 5 or so kilometres. On any runs in the next few days you'll want to keep your heart rate low, so always try to maintain a nice, relaxed pace.
Continue Eating Well - Your body is still in a fragile state so a treat or two is fine, but try to save the 10 course rich degustation (with matching wines) for a later date when you can truly appreciate the meal (and bear the consequences).
Self-Massage - Lightly working on your calves, feet, hamstrings, glutes and quads is a great way to stay loose and promote recovery. Focussing on your trouble areas will really help but avoid deep tissue massage for now. It can be difficult to distinguish between an acute injury and some general soreness - in most cases, your soreness or stiffness will most likely be the result of simple overloading as opposed to coming from a true injury, but don't wait too long to seek professional advice if you're in serious pain.
Most importantly - take time to congratulate yourself and recognise your massive achievement. You've worked hard for this and this is a huge accomplishment - Well Done You!
Amanda is a registered personal trainer and certified boxing instructor who specialises in fitness for women. Her goal is to inspire women of all ages to enjoy living an active, healthy life!
As a Mum of an active boy and baby girl and owner of Perth-based personal training company She’s a Knockout, Amanda is dedicated to empowering women to be fit, strong and confident in themselves.