I run the marathon to the very last mile. ~ Beastie Boys
First of all, I have to say how sad I am about the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA). His music has been in heavy rotation in my life since 1986’s License to Ill and he will be sorely missed. As I have said before, cancer can go fuck itself.
Now on to (hopefully) less depressing topics: Race recovery. I am no expert but have learned a few tricks in the past few years about what works for me once the racing is done and your bod is in need of some TLC.
Immediately following a longer event, I am usually fairly dehydrated and my electrolyte balance is all out of whack. I sweat like it’s going out of style so even though I try to stay on top of hydration during the race, I still am depleted by the finish. Once I stop running and my heartrate starts to drop, my blood pressure crashes. The fluid level in my system is depleted and when the pump slows down, the volume of blood being delivered to my brain diminishes. Bad things can happen after that if I don’t get some fluids going. And stat. So immediately post-race, I guzzle some Gatorade, grab a couple bottles of water (or re-usable cups, if available) and I find a place to sit down if I am feeling woozy. I have also found that chips are my bestest friend immediately after a race. I think the salt and calories treat me right so I’ll whack down a couple bags of those as well. Lunch-sized bags, not Party Size, tubby.
I try to get moving again fairly quickly post-race vs. sitting for too long. If I feel well enough to jog a little, I might try that but usually I am just up for a stroll back to the hotel or shuttle or wherever I need to be next. If you have friends or family attending the event, have a place picked out to meet up since there will be hundreds of runners milling around like zombies post-event and finding your loved-ones in this mess is not happening. I have found that a couple miles is a decent distance for a post-race walk but durations may vary depending upon what works for you. If you can walk back along the course and cheer for those racers finishing after you, that is a lot of fun.
Once I get back to my room, I jump in an ice bath then follow this with a warm bath to help flush my legs. Not the most pleasant of experiences but I do find that it helps reduce the inflammation in my legs and puts me on the road to recovery. I also try to get in some decent complex carbs at this juncture to try to rebuild my glycogen stores. Lunch is usually on the immediate agenda as well, so as soon as I have cleaned up, I’ll head back out to grab some grub. I find that it helps to spend at least a little time in the afternoon with my feet up. I’ll watch a movie or read a book before heading back out for a mid-to-late-afternoon walk or celebration.
The next day:
Usually, I travel for my big races so like to spend some time post-event exploring the town. I have found that this helps get my legs moving again and greatly reduces the down-time post-event. The past three marathons I have done, I have spent a good chunk of time the following day walking or hiking in the surrounding area. Post-Boston, I walked the Freedom Trail, which was fantastic and when I was in San Fran last summer, I walked all around the area checking out the sites of Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and the neighborhoods of the Bay Area. In Eugene last weekend, I hiked a small peak south of town. Going down stairs or downhill can be daunting but it is worth it to get out to soak in the sites as well as to keep things moving.
I keep pushing the fluids and tend to eat like there’s no tomorrow in the days following the race. I also like to wear compression tights on the flight home as this seems to make my legs recover more quickly.
The following week:
I tend to need a couple days for my legs to feel less like hunks of wood and like to throw in walking/hiking during the first week post-race. If I am feeling fantastic, I might try a short, easy run as early as Wednesday after a Sunday event but usually find this to be counter-productive. I keep the running super light and easy for at least a couple weeks after a big event, tend to move to easy trails vs. roads and definitely don’t push the pace or intensity much during this period. I have made the mistake of trying to jump back into faster workouts too quickly in the past and am learning that time spent being nice to myself now, pays off immensely later. I can either take it easy for a couple of weeks now, or be required to take at least another couple of weeks later. Think “big picture” at this juncture vs. short-term pleasure. I missed trail running last season due to my road racing schedule and am SO jonezing to run the amazing trails around my house. But I am forcing myself to hold back a bit, be patient with my recovery, and wait a bit to get out on a longer, more intense run. The trails will be there when my bod is ready to roll. (Hopefully by Sunday!)
One final note, the above recommendations are based upon racing marathons where the intensity level and surface contribute to more post-event suffering than I experience when running trail races. Even after the Leadville 100 in 2010, I was running normally again later that week. To be completely honest, I am WAY more wrecked after racing a marathon than an ultra. Though I haven’t fully “raced” an ultra yet… I’ll have to get back with you on that one. Let me know if I missed anything.
As always, have fun out there.
EDIT: Talked with my coach and World Marathon Champ, Mark Plaatjes, on a run today about recovery. He recommended running only 2-3 days – no more than 5 miles per run – the week after a marathon. If you feel like jumping on a bike and doing easy rides, that is fine. Week two, you can increase your runs to 4-5 and add some distance but no intensity. Just keep everything mellow. The third week you can start running your regular schedule with some fartleks but no sustained efforts. After that, you should be good to go back to your regularly scheduled training regimen.
We also talked about doubles and his take on them is that if you have time to run in the morning, come home, eat, take a nap, get up around noon and do another run, eat, take another nap, then doubles are sustainable. If not, they are just a recipe for injury. He does like adding easy bike riding as a supplement in the evening after hard morning runs.