Perhaps one of the most challenging things you have encountered after completing your race is re-establishing a running fitness level. I like to call it “distance fitness.” Re-establishing distance fitness begins with proper recovery. After a race, you should observe a natural cycle of down time, as you recover, recharge and heal.
Your body can accomplish amazing physical feats when you train and take care of it properly. However, there is a certain amount of abuse that it can take, which is why the natural cycle of down time is important. If you take the time (days, weeks or even months) to allow your body to rest, grow stronger and heal, you’ll return to peak condition in no time.
Edmund Burke, Phd., points out in his book Optimal Muscle Recovery:
When you strain your muscles, you produce localized damage such as microscopic tears to muscle fiber membranes and protein filaments. Over the twenty-four hours following strenuous exercise, the damaged muscles become swollen and sore. In addition, there is increased blood flow to the muscles, which causes the muscle tissues to swell.
So you can see (and may have experienced) that proper recovery is essential for healing. Allowing your body to heal will prepare you to run longer and harder. Burke goes on to state that “by moving sore muscles, you increase circulation, which brings protein and other nutrients to muscles that need repair.”
Now is a good time for cross-training, via swimming, cycling, yoga and weightlifting. These activities will work different muscles in your body and will not place as much stress on your legs. Cross training also circulates blood into your muscle fibers to help with healing.
Burke says that there are three phases of recovery:
- Rapid Phase – This is a small window of 30 minutes immediately following your run when your body seeks to re-establish pre-exercise levels of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood levels.
- Intermediate Phase – This is the 90 minute to two hour post-run phase when your body seeks to restore fluid levels via rehydration, in order to operate normally. This is a critical time for you to consume a carbohydrate-loaded drink for maximal recovery.
- Longer Phase – This phase can last from two to twenty hours, as you need to continue to consume carbohydrates, but this time mostly in the forms of solid foods such as pasta, breads, and veggies.
From personal experience, I can tell you that both the rapid and intermediate phases won’t vary. However, according to the individual and the level of physical exertion that was exerted, the longer phase may take some people longer than others to recover. After running a marathon, my muscles will take anywhere from three days to almost two weeks to fully recover and no longer be sore.
So be smart about recovery and listen to your body. With the proper amount of time and healing, your body will grow even stronger and will, once again, carry you to that next finish line.