To my old and new friends, who will be embarking on the Enigma Running Week at the Knees tomorrow (7 marathons in 7 days) – good luck, and race well!
For more information on Enigma events, visit www.enigmarunning.co.uk.
There are many people out there who are entering into running half or full marathons. They invest in a decent pair of running trainers, maybe take time to get their gait analysed to minimise the possibility of injury. They might take the time to download a training plan, or ask for help from others who have run the distance before as they look to get started.
Then, they put the time and effort in to prepare their bodies for the rigours of completing the challenge that they have set themselves. They train, they put the mileage in. Early morning runs, after work training, building up and working toward race day.
They check their dietary requirements – many people find that they don’t drink as much alcohol, or have as many nights out as in the past, as they want to achieve their goal. For many, fundraising for charity may play a big part in motivating them – and no-one wants to fall at the last hurdle!
The day arrives and runners crawl out of bed, nervous and excited for what lies ahead. They have breakfast, lace up the trainers, pin on the race number and head to the Start line. A few hours later, with a smile and a medal, mission completed, many fall into a satisfied glow before overlooking the one area that is just as important as all the effort that has gone before:
Recovering after the race!
There is not as much information out there on post-race recovery as there is about preparing for the race, training for the race and fuelling yourself properly before and during the race.
Personally, I see the post race recovery as being just as important as the effort that I put into training for, and completing the race. I am at the slower end of the pack, and I will spend more time out on the course than many other people doing the same event. My muscles will be working longer, where other people’s muscles will work faster. The effort is different but the recovery still needs to be done – especially if you want to be able to reduce the aches and pains that the muscles will feel the next day.
My recovery starts the minute I finish the race.
I know that I am not alone here, but I just cannot eat for the first couple of hours post-race. However, this is the optimal period for nutritional recovery to take place. Ideally (although the theory appears to be changing), the first 20 minutes after finishing an event is when the body likes to be able to utilise protein effectively, so I always make sure I have some kind of protein recovery shake in my race bag, so that I can be sipping on that as I cool down.
Whether it’s a milk drink (or milk substitute) or a protein shake, I find that easier for my body to stomach (no pun intended) in the immediate aftermath of the finish line. By sipping it, it’s less likely to cause digestive problems, or make a return visit.
For those who can stomach small amounts of food, then yoghurt, soya desserts, or a handful of nuts and seeds will also be effective in the initial stages.
There is a 90-120 minute window post-race for carbohydrates, but I prefer to make sure that I have a balanced meal when I feel up to eating, rather than forcing myself to eat when I am not ready. Most protein recovery or milk drinks have carbohydrates too, so I’m not neglecting that area anyway.
Eat when you feel ready, but make sure that you do eat something. The body needs to repair itself and it can’t do that when there are no materials to work with.
Fluid intake is also important post-race as dehydration can occur during the event, and if fluids are not replaced, then this too can impinge upon optimal recovery.
Aside from the protein drink, I also have a cherry juice drink, and depending upon requirements, I might stick an electrolyte tablet in there too. Cherries have been found to have a compound within them that assists in muscle recovery – reducing soreness and joint stiffness. I’ll have approximately 500ml of that – some people prefer something like Cherry Active, but I have found that supermarkets that have a foreign foods section quite often have a cherry juice available for purchase, so I can just buy it as I require it.
Between race finish and about an hour before bedtime, I will regularly sip on fluids and check my urine colour to ensure that I do not remain dehydrated for longer than necessary. I don’t gulp down fluids as they cause bloating and discomfort. Sipping allows the body to rehydrate slowly but surely.
I know many people like to have a celebratory beer post-race, and there was some research done in the UK a few years ago showing that Real Ales were quite effective in aiding recovery (as long as they were not drunk to excess), as the quality of the hops and the brewing process allowed for better carbohydrate within the drink than with lagers and other alcoholic beverages, which just tended to dehydrate the body further. Thus, enjoy a Real Ale rather than a poor imitation!
Cool down recovery.
It’s amazing how many people ‘stop’ post-race, or complain that they have to keep walking through the funnelling to get their medal/water/foil wrap/baggage once they have finished, but this is designed as such to allow the muscles a chance to cool down and allow the lactic acid to start working its way out of the muscles and be flushed out of the body more efficiently. If the body stops before it has been given the chance to cool down, then the lactic acid remains in the muscles and this contributes to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Stiffness/Soreness) either the next day or the day after (when it sneaks up on you with little or no warning).
As I am sipping my post-race protein drink, I stay on my feet, slowly moving about. When I have finished it, I have the first of many gentle stretches. Only gentle, nothing exceptional as the muscle fibres will already be suffering from the small micro-tears that make them stronger in the long run, so it is only ever extremely gentle, but enough to help me ward off stiffness later on. I will probably stretch 5 or 6 times between finishing the race and bedtime, for no more than 3 or 4 minutes at a time.
I also change my trainers (I keep a second pair in my race bag) so that my feet have a chance to wear something different – it’s amazing how different your feet feel after a change of footwear!
Basically, this is bath-time. I’ll have a quick cold or lukewarm shower first before having a warm bath. The cold shower will allow any areas that might be swelling from exertion (such as feet or ankles for example) to get some cool water on them to help ease any areas that have potential to be problematic, as well as allowing the body to stimulate and remove any post-race toxins as waste products. This doesn’t need to be long at all, a couple of minutes at most.
The warm bath is just to allow the muscles to relax as you get clean. If in a facility with no bath, a warm shower works just as well.
This is what I have been doing for the last 10 years after races, and I have found that the only times that I have had problems are the occasions when I have missed out one or more of the sections above – or left them for too long after the race.
What works for you? What are your post-race rituals?
Have a great race!
© 2014 Kinetic Lifestyle. Part or all of this article may not be reproduced without permission.