ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE NOT YET RUN YOUR HALF MARATHON, especially if this race will be your first, you may be wondering what comes next, after it’s over. It’s called RECOVERY.
There is quite a bit of wonderful advice about how to recover after long distance races, specifically half marathons and marathons, provided by some very experienced trainers and coaches. Some advice comes as math-style calculations demonstrated on graphs. Other advice calls on runners to listen to their bodies. There are articles offering 7 tips, or 3 steps, or explaining several stages of recovery. It’s a bit confusing if you rush through the titles and paragraph headings only and don’t read the details. Most of the advice is similar and common sense. But it’s doesn’t come automatically to runners, and only seems “common” to you if you have experienced a few races and recovery periods.
At the end of this discussion there are several links to such articles for you to read in detail. I commented on them a bit below so you might be able to choose one to read first. If the advice in that piece doesn’t help you personally, you can check out the others or search further yourself.
The advice generally covers 2 periods of time after the race:
1) Immediately after finishing (or the day of /after)
2) Days and weeks later
Immediately after you cross the finish line:
Your thoughts should be centered on hydrating and eating something (mix of protein and carbohydrates) to replenish fluid and fuel stores and help begin the process of healing damaged muscles and soft tissues. Shortly after that, an easy cool down run is recommended. Other measures that can be taken a bit later include actually “cooling” with ice baths or refreshing swims in a swimming pool as needed, receiving a massage offered at the race, foam rolling, or putting on compression apparel. The remainder of the day should be restful, and the time used to celebrate your achievement and critically assess your performance in a positive light to help with future training and races. Kristin Gustafson advises runners that they might experience an emotional reaction, which has a physical basis (post-endorphin release), such that feeling of let-down is not unexpected at this time.
SLEEP is also an important component of recovery, and a little extra the night of the race and over each of the following days is a good idea. Amanda Loudin has put forth the idea that recovery should be more “holistic” than it currently seems to be, that runners should expect to feel the physical effects of their effort and accept that discomfort as sign that progress will be made. She incorporates advice from STEVE MAGNESS, author of The Science of Running and cross-country coach at the University of Houston. “If you look at how the body works, you realize you need to stress it to where it’s almost embarrassed,” he says. “The stimulus caused by damage allows the body to repair and adapt. This is where it makes its gains”. Hence he cautions, dosing yourself with pain-blocking anti-inflammatory medications or anti-oxidants may subvert the natural healing that is meant to take place.
Days and weeks after the race
This advice concerns itself with when and how to start training again after the race. A general rule of thumb offered by several of the sources I checked recommend not returning to hard workouts for a time period that equals 1day/1mile of race distance. Roughly, that translates to 2 weeks of recovery after a half marathon and 1 month after a marathon. HOWEVER, Coach Jenny Hadfield cautions against following a calculated return to regular training and hard workouts. Without using the word ‘holistic” she recommends following body and life signals rather than numbers. SHE QUALIFIES the 1day/1mile rule, indicating that recovery needs can vary by race, and that runners must be flexible and base their recovery plan on how they feel, “the flow of life and your body, not the calendar. “Recovery is about healing from the overall stress in your life, not just from training or racing,” and she provides personal examples and a couple case studies. “Recovery isn’t about running at a slower pace; it’s about training at an easier effort”.
AGE is another consideration in planning your recovery according to these sources. The older you are, especially after age 40, the slower you might wish to go in recovering from a big race, especially a marathon. Rather than 1 month, Pete Magill quotes champion marathoner Tracy Lokken as saying it should be 45 days. You may wish to take that into consideration for your half marathon recovery time if you are over 40 years old!
Remember that if you don’t do a good job of scheduling an adequate recovery your body is likely to help you correct your mistake. You may find yourself with more unscheduled days off than you planned, due to a sluggish return, or worse yet, an injury.
I watched the women qualifiers for the US Olympic marathon team being interviewed as part of Boston Marathon live coverage. Sadly I cannot recall the specific words or woman, but at least one of them was commenting on how difficult it was to rest after that effort. She was not fully enjoying the down-time, especially as a spectator at this great race, and was eager to start training for the Games. You may not be an Olympian, but if she needs time to recover, you do also!
“7 Post-Race Recovery Tips by Kristin Gustafson for Active.com
“Re-thinking Recovery for Runners: Adopting A More Holistic Approach” by Amanda Loudin for Competitor.com
“What’s The Best Post Race Recovery Plan?” by Jenny Hadfield
“Faster After 40: Master Your Recovery” by Pete Magill
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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