Long Distance Running Recovery Plan! (Your actionable timeline)
I don't know about you but I love the feeling that comes after long distance running. Peace, fulfillment, clarity, and yes, a little bit of soreness! Depending on how far you ran, you will want to jump start the recovery process as fast and as soon as possible.
Recovery becomes all the more important when you are training for a time goal, want to reach a PR, are a first time marathoner and your body is trying to adjust to the longer distances or when you are running over 16+ miles.
What you do after the long run can make all the difference in how you bounce back, how fast you can build up your endurance level and how your muscle tears will repair.
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Your Long Distance Running Recovery Timeline of what you should be doing after your long runs:
0-5 minutes after your run: Rehydrate! You will want to drink about 8oz+ of water. Also, have some more of your energy drink of choice. You need to restore those carbohydrate levels that you have depleted and want the electrolytes (sodium + potassium in particular) that should be found in your energy drink.
5-15 minutes after your long distance running: Get a good 10 minute stretch in! Lengthening your muscles, particularly the front and backs of your legs, hips, and calves, will help to loosen any acid build up and reduce the amount of soreness that you will feel. Try to really hold the stretches and go deep. You just spent several hours contracting your muscles over and over again and now you want to counterbalance that action a bit.
15-30 minutes after a long run: Have a high carb + high protein snack. You want to be sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing your run. Your cellular receptors are highly prone within this time span to take in nutrients which will allow for a speedier recovery. So plan ahead and have an energy snack within 0-30 minutes after finishing your run. A quick, easy, ready-made protein/healthy complex carb snack idea:these protein poppers!
30 minutes-1 hour after long distance running: Take a cold shower. I know, this is never comfortable but the benefits are hard to ignore. Cold showers greatly help to reduce any inflammation that your body will be trying to fight off from running so many miles. The key in any recovery program is to aggressively fight inflammation in order to promote speedy recovery. So cold showers, ice baths (I will not go there but if you can handle it then it's the way to go!), icing where you feel the most soreness will all help to start the fight against inflammation.
After your shower: Put on your compression socks! They have been proven to offset delayed onset muscle soreness up to 24 hours after a race or long run. This seems to be a constant in the research that has been done on recovery while wearing the socks. This benefit has been proven from 10K racing up to the marathon. So put them on and try to wear them as much as possible for 24 hours after your long run. (Here's more information on compression socks + some suggestions!)
Don't forget your vitamins! Your immune system has also taken a hit after your long run and you are much more susceptible to catching colds and other bugs right after so take at least 500 mg of Vitamin C. I like to use this Vitamin C which is highly soluble and extremely effective! You could also include a B12 vitamin to feel more energized!
2+ hours after long distance running: By this time if you haven't already crashed, it's time for a nap! Even if you still need to head off to work for the day if you can get in a quick 20 minute nap that will super start your recovery. Sleep really does wonders for your body. That's a whole other post in itself. But if you can shut your mind down and let your body just focus on repairing any damage that it has taken on during the long run it will make a big, big difference in how you feel and how quickly you will bounce back. So try to get 20 minutes of sleep but the longer the better! Keep those compression socks on too!
Before you go to bed for the night: Try to get another round of stretching in. Think about lengthening those muscles! Not only will this again help to ward of delayed onset muscle soreness but it will also help you sleep better and reduce the chances of you waking up with an awful leg or foot cramp (charlie horse)!
Schedule in at least 7-8 hours of sleep for the night! Again, the value of sleep! A lot of us try to get by with the bare minimum or even less but after a long run is not the time to do that! If you can, tack on 1 to 2 hours of extra sleep for the night all the better!
24 hours + after long distance running: Do some light exercise + stretch again! Go on a walk, slow jog, slow bicycle ride, etc. This will help you loosen up and get your body ready to keep on keeping on with your training!
Don't schedule in any hard workouts. In general, the day after a long run or race should be a rest day. Keep eating healthy complex carbs, proteins for muscle repair and healthy fats!
Get in another 7-8 hours of extra sleep!
If you want a quick reference to remember all that you will want to do after a long run then I put together thisquick checklist that can prompt you to focus on what you should be doing. Tape it to your fridge or store it in your running stockpile or running log for the next time you need it!
Remember that the long run is the key to marathon success. However, rest and proper recovery is also essential to your success so take it seriously. If you need to take even two or 3 days off of running after a long run then do it!
Also, if you are wondering what you should be eating while training for a marathon or half marathon + how to menu plan when you are long distance running and simple, healthy meal ideas to fuel your marathon training then EAT LIKE A RUNNER is for you!
*Disclaimer: While the information on this site is taken mostly from research journals and scientifically based texts it is not meant to replace a doctor or medical professional.