For most runners it’s all about the finishing line – training hard, racing tough and getting there as fast as you can. But instead of hurtling straight back into daily life the second your pulse has returned to normal, take time to recharge yourself physically and mentally. Whether you have just a few minutes or an hour or more, a well-honed post-run routine will boost your health – and improve your running. Here’s what to do post-run – 10 top tips
1 Do a body-scan meditation
Stress hormones such as cortisol are pumping through your body during an intense run. Calm your body afterwards with a body-scan meditation. ‘This will help you release tension that can lead to stiff muscles, as well as calming you physically and mentally,’ says fitness and mindfulness coach John Lingley. Take a few seconds to focus on each part of your body, working your way up from your feet. Focus on how each part feels and if you sense tightness or pain take in a long breath and release the tension on as you breathe out. ‘Post-run is the perfect time to connect with your body and notice how it feels and what it needs,’ says John.
2 Do the count-five breathing exercise
Release tension and regenerate your mind and body after all the exertion with some mindful breathing. ‘Take deep in and out breaths from your belly, rather than shallow breaths. Count five in and five out, as this is the optimum time and cycle for calming your heart rate and body,’ says Debbie Banks, a mindfulness and meditation coach (at timeout-retreats.co.uk) who has competed internationally in triathlon. Take five to 10 minutes after a race to focus on your breathing.
3 Cool-down jog
‘When you run hard your body adapts to help it deal with a high level of exertion,’ says conditioning coach and trainer Colin Browning, www.colinbrowning.vpweb.co.uk
‘Jog lightly for a few minutes if you’ve done a short run, or up to a mile if it was a long race. This will boost recovery because it helps flush out lactic acid and metabolic waste and bring your body back to a resting state slowly and comfortably.’
4 Do a mindfulness meditation
‘We’re constantly pushing ourselves to achieve, and running is a classic example because you have to mentally and physically push yourself to the finishing line,’ says Debbie.
‘Our brain is always looking to the next achievement and what we need to do next. But instead you’ll improve your well-being if you take the time immediately after a race to pause for thought and replenish yourself mentally and physically with a mindfulness meditation.’ After the race, block any thoughts of what you should do or are going to do next. Instead, focus fully on sounds you can hear, how your body feels, what you can see and smell. Engage all your senses and if you feel distracted pull yourself back to the present.
5 Stretch out major muscles
Develop your own stretching routine – holding each stretch for 30 to 40 seconds. Don’t skimp on leg stretches for the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. ‘The stretch-out after is crucial and needs to be individual,’ says Colin Browning. ‘It can help reduce stiffness and pain the next day so ensure you include it in every post-run routine.’
6 Take stock of your running
Once you’ve spent a few minutes breathing and doing your mindfulness exercises, take stock of how the run went. Don’t beat yourself up; just acknowledge any feelings you have about your performance and where you want to go from here. Make a mental note of anything you can learn from the run that will help you improve next time. Give yourself a set amount of time to do this (try five minutes) rather than dwelling on it for hours, which can make you feel bad.
7 Drink chocolate milk
Eat something as soon as you can after intense exercise to refuel your muscles – and ideally within 40 minutes. ‘Take on board carbs and protein quite quickly afterwards. Chocolate milk has a good ratio of protein and lactose and is used by a lot of sportspeople to refuel,’ says sports nutritional therapist Jo-Scott Dalgleish.
This is crucial if you’ve done a tough run. Plain water should do the trick, or make your own sports drink. Performance sports nutritionist Renee MgGregor from Bath University recommends diluting high-juice squash to taste with water in a 750ml bottle; add a quarter of a teaspoon of salt and you have a cheap homemade sports drink. Use this before and after the race – and even during if it’s a long run and you want to take a drink with you.
9 Have your shower, then do a longer meditation
‘The exertion of running means your body is physically calmer in the couple of hours after you stop,’ says Colin. ‘If you can grab the chance and have somewhere you can retreat to this is the ideal time to meditate,’ he adds. After you’ve taken your post-run shower, lie down and take 10 to 20 minutes to meditate and focus and quiet your mind – and your body. Turn off any noisy distractions, wear comfortable clothes, find a quiet place and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back and attempt to clear your mind; think about nothing but your breathing.
10 Take a nap
If you have the luxury of plenty of time after a run, take a nap when you get the chance. Sleep is the best recovery tool available. Elite Kenyan professional runners, who train several times a day, sleep as much and as often as they can between running sessions.