Just as a training plan has helped you run your race, so an equally well thought-out recovery plan should ease you through its aftermath. “Active recovery,” says Dearbhla Gallagher, rehabilitation therapist at The St Mary’s Clinic, London (www.smuc.ac.uk) “means having a plan to assist your body to get back to its regular state, and not just treating recovery as an afterthought. If you’ve run a hilly course, or you’ve really pushed yourself through those miles, you’ve put quite a strain on your body.”
To help get you back on track after a big race, we’ve put together five handy tips to ensure a strong and speedy recovery.
1.) Stay mobile
Gallagher strongly advises mobilisation of the muscle groups after a race. “It’s about helping blood flow, and helping move toxins out of your body,” she says. So walking around and keeping a full range of movement is good recovery practice.
2.) Fuel up
Gallagher also recommends you help your body’s healing by striding purposefully toward the refreshments. “You have to rehydrate and refuel. How much you need depends on your fitness and your body mass, but the idea of that 30-minute window during which you replace the depleted nutrients in your body has good evidence behind it,” states Gallagher. She adds:
“You’ll need water or an electrolyte drink. Calculate how much liquid you need to replace, either by checking the colour of your urine (make sure it resembles pale straw) or weighing yourself before and after the event.
“A banana and some yogurt is a great mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate for a post-run snack.”
And, give some thought to dinner time, says Laura Clark, registered dietitian and sports nutritionist at LEC Nutrition (www.lecnutrition.co.uk). “Eating a balanced meal after your run aids recovery. Some lean protein (oily fish is particularly good because of the fatty acids) and a range of vegetables and carbs will replenish your body’s stores and prepare it for the next challenge.”
Your immune system has taken a knock and needs a full range of nutrients to keep going strong.
3.) Stretch and foam roll
In this recuperative period you gradually bring those stretched and inflamed muscles into their normal working state. The discomfort of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be alleviated by judicious active recovery. Ellie Brown, running coach and founder of Greenwich Pilates (www.greenwichpilates.co.uk) says it’s about recovering the ease of movement by putting in time on the foam roller and the yoga mat, while keeping up the gentle mobilisation of the joints. “Gently work your lower back and thoracic spine by performing cat stretches, downward dogs and spine curls on the mat. With the roller or spiky ball you can lie on your side and use your body weight to apply pressure to your hip flexors and glutes. You are trying to minimize the impact on the body, while improving the circulation of fresh blood to the muscles.”
Slumber is so essential for reparation and preparation that some of us lose sleep over getting our full eight hours. Nick Littlehales, a sports sleep performance coach (www.sportsleepcoach.com) works with elite athletes and has studied the body’s natural rhythms throughout the 24-hour cycle. “Eight hours sounds like a nice normal optimum sleep time, but modern life is too pressured for one nocturnal period. Elite athletes have had to move back to the principle ofthree natural sleep periods to allow for their punishing schedules,” he says.
“Instead of becoming tense about needing sleep, think in terms of mental and physical recovery periods before and after races. Have a consistent wake time that you apply every day and arrange your activities around that. Build up a routine that you stick to, trying to match your awake stage to natural daylight.
“After a hard run, adrenalin causes the body’s functions to change; cooling down, stretching, refuelling and bringing your body into a rest state takes time, which is why you may find after an evening run that you need to go to bed later. But you need to wake up at the same time as always, so two periods during the day of “boost and balance” resting times will make up your quota.”
5.) Have a plan
A mind plan will help sign off the race just done, and help you prepare for the next one. In the weeks before a run, think how you may feel once the challenge is over. Deflated? The post-marathon blues, for example, is a well-documented phenomenon. Professor Ian Maynard, sports psychologist at Sheffield Hallam University, works with elite athletes to help them through such postperformance slumps. He says:
“It’s important, during the training preceding a big race, to plan something else to focus on after it. For people who want to recover quickly, having another run on the horizon helps them to refocus.
“You gather yourself for something new, to pre-empt the feelings of either being let down or lost, without a focus. It helps to evaluate your progress, too. Ask yourself: “Was I good, bad or indifferent? How will I change things next time?” A change is as good as a rest, in sport, as well as in life.”