If you’re training for either or both of the big winter races—the 3M Half Marathon (January 24) or the Austin Marathon or Half (February 14)–you should already have several long runs under your legs. Regardless of how many long runs you have completed so far, there’s absolutely no question that long runs are the key to your marathon (or half marathon) training program. Running the right number at the proper pace and distance will go a long way toward making your target race a success.
But it’s also especially important to recover quickly and completely from the rigors of a long run. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind in your training program and be unable to complete the other elements that still lie ahead.
It’s also important to understand that your muscles get stronger during the rest period or recovery periods following hard training blocks such as the long run. So you must follow any long run with recovery runs and easy days that allow you adequate time to regenerate—mentally and physically—before undertaking the next phase of your training program.
Here are some long-run recovery tips that, if followed, will help you bounce back quickly:
1. Hydrate. Following any long run, hydrate immediately with 16 to 32 ounces of water and/or sports drink. A sports drink will replace electrolytes and trace minerals lost in your sweat. A cold drink is better than a warm one because it tastes better and is easier to absorb.
2. Dry clothes. As soon as you stop running, you’ll be losing body heat rapidly and will get chilled (especially in the fall and winter) unless you change to warm, dry clothes immediately. Put on warm sweats, change your socks, hat and shorts.
3. Walk. After you’ve hydrated, go for a short walk or slow jog to cool down and relax.
4. Shower. A nice, warm shower will not only cleanse you and get rid of all the sweat and dirt, it will relax the nervous system and help your body readjust its temperature back to normal.
5. Stretch. After a long run, it’s difficult to find the energy to stretch but even a five-minute stretching routine will boost your circulation and hasten your recovery.
6. Ice. If you have any sore, aching muscles, now is the time to ice down. (Don’t heat sore muscles right after running or sit in a Jacuzzi. An ice bath—if you tolerate it—is much better.)
7. Reload. A long run can dampen your appetite, but once your stomach has settled down, it’s time to refuel with carbohydrate-rich foods to rebuild your glycogen stores. It’s a great idea to reload with whatever you loaded with the night before.
8. Keep drinking. Continue to drink water, sports drink or juice to make absolutely certain you’re properly hydrated.
9. Chill. Give yourself a break and lie down. Doing so, will relax your heart rate. You’ve earned it. If you feel like it, take a nap.
10. Go for another walk. In the afternoon or early evening, go for a leisurely walk to prevent muscle soreness the next day. A good alternative is a very relaxed, short bike ride.