The more we run, the better we get at figuring out what works best for us by way of post-run recovery. My routine these days is generally to stretch, rehydrate, refuel and, if I’ve been for a long run, to wear compression calf sleeves/socks as well as enjoying a relaxing soak before bed.
But what about after a marathon or goal endurance event? It’s very easy to plan every single step to get to the start line, but it’s just as important to consider what happens afterwards in order to recover well and (hopefully) avoid injury. In 2014 I had a lovely time recovering in Paris after running a PB, but I got carried away on a post-run high and returned to running too soon, resulting in some quality time spent on the injury bench. In 2015 I did a much better job of having a recovery plan, particularly since I had gone into my marathon carrying the niggling after-effects of a strained muscle which had impacted on my training. This allowed me to run well through the summer and take part in all the events I had planned. Having a plan worked much better for me.
Which brings me to this year. This year, my pre-race training was unconventional thanks to the stress fracture I suffered at the end of 2015. So what did that mean for my post-race recovery plan? I already know that my body responds best to two full weeks off running after a marathon, but I wanted to make sure that my return to running was also carefully planned to avoid overloading my body and picking up another injury. I needed to make a plan.
My immediate recovery was the same as ever – rehydrate, refuel, try to keep moving and wear compression socks/calf sleeves for a day or two – but once home, it was time to think about my longer term recovery. I decided on one week of complete rest (I was lucky to still have the rest of the week off work so I didn’t have to do much) followed by one week of VERY gentle cross training. This was mainly swimming and cycling, but I limited my time to 30 minutes and made sure that my effort level remained comfortable. I knew that in the second week I would be keen to run again, which is exactly why I needed to have a plan that would stop me sneaking out the door for a quick 5k – I even signed up as a parkrun volunteer in advance so that I could still be part of the event but without running!
My plan even extended to my return to running after my two weeks off. Initially, I decided to stick with 3 runs per week (2 during the week and 1 at the weekend) and to keep them “low and slow” – no more than about 3.5 miles and at a relatively easy pace. So with no real pressure of speed or distance, I used the opportunity to explore some of the paths near our new house which I had not yet checked out. I really enjoyed that, and it helped me to keep my pace nice and gentle as I took in my new surroundings.
And of course, I returned to parkrun. Thanks to the rest and recovery, I actually found myself running a bit quicker than before the marathon, but without putting in an all-out effort. I hope that’s a positive sign for the coming weeks!
Interspersed among the runs, I continued to swim and re-introduced metafit to my weekly routine as I find it useful for all-round fitness. I also made sure to still have one rest day per week and to find time to read, relax and get plenty of sleep. All of which has left me feeling good and ready to start building up my training again. I’m already considering what my next goal will be.
I’m certainly no expert, but experience has taught me what works well for me. My best advice for recovering after a marathon or endurance event is therefore to listen to your body – you have, after all, put it through a lot and asked a lot of it, so give it a bit of love and care. Get some rest, eat well and enjoy catching up with friends and family who may have been a bit neglected during your training cycle. You know your body better than anyone else, so listen to it and not the voice in your head that insists you need to be straight back out training again, as that may very well lead to injury or overtraining. Besides, if it’s good enough for the elites, it’s good enough for me!
What’s your post-race recovery plan?
Do you have any favourite products that help you to recover?