As runners we’re often guilty of focussing all our efforts on the race, particularly if we’re targeting a specific marathon or half marathon. We do what it takes to get to the finish line and consider our work complete, the moment someone hangs a bit of bling around our necks. The stiffness, the DOMs and a few days walking funny are all accepted as part of the process. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Approach your recovery right and you’ll be surprised how quickly your body can bounce back, ready to go again.
As an ultra runner who’s taken on a plenty of multi-stage races – including a top 100 finish at the Marathon des Sables where you run the equivalent of six marathons in 5 days and a 3-day 300km run along the Thames from source to sea – I’ve learnt a lot about looking after my body so I’m able to run another day. I’ve picked up tactics over the years that help me minimise the impact of tough runs and push my body beyond what I thought possible.
To give you an example of what a smart approach to recovery can achieve, I recently used these recovery tools to help me follow the 6.5-hour Endurance Life Sussex Ultra 50k on a Saturday, with a 1:38 at the Sage Reading Half on Sunday morning.
And remember, because it’s during recovery, not on the run, where the fitness adaptations happen, and you grow stronger, so these are valuable tools not just after a race but post session during training too.
Here are my tips to help you avoid post-marathon hobble, make stairs less daunting and even get back to running sooner.
PRACTICE SELF PRESERVATION
Unless I’m racing or chasing down a PB, my recovery always starts before I finish the run I’m currently on. While it might be tempting to smash out the last kilometre or sprint to the front door, all this does is fill your legs with lactic acid, giving your muscles more recovery work to do. On a multi-stage ultra that means you’re more likely to have it tougher the next day. Instead I drop my pace and turn those final miles into active recovery, this helps clear lactic and leaves me fresh to go again the following day where I’ll easily make up the time I would have gained and more.
Directly after a run, ideally within 20 minutes, you should restock your body with some sustenance that has 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. The carbs help restock your muscles’ energy stores while the protein provides the building blocks for muscle repair. How you get this is entirely up to you, many people go for the convenience of a protein shake or a chocolate milk, but you could equally just eat normal food too. If you’re using a shake, I highly recommend adding some extra nutritional punch with a scoop of nutrient-dense super greens powders. These provide antioxidants that can help your immune system be more resilient at the point it needs support most.
LOOK AFTER YOUR FEET
Part of my post-race ritual includes getting out of my socks and shoes as fast as possible, getting air to my feet and allowing them to be unconstrained. If you’ve run hard, the chances are your toes will be damp from sweat, toenails might be a bit beaten up and your feet will be generally fatigued from all that impact. Slipping on a pair of OOFOS means you get air to your feet but the soft foam absorbs impact, and provides welcome respite meaning you can move around more freely while your feet get a decent rest.
Squeezing into a pair of leggings, tights, socks of calf sleeves with a high level of compression helps increase blood flow and speed up the removal of the waste products caused by your running exertions. I find they force you to get out of your sweaty, wet clothes, so you avoid getting cold and also start to feel psychologically like you’ve switched into recovery more. Look out for products that carries a compression rating so you can be sure you’re not wasting your money on something that’s just really slightly tighter lycra.
If you’ve just run for four hours (or sometimes more), the urge to get off – and stay off – your feet is obviously strong. And while immediately after you finish it’s a good idea to raise your legs to help flush the lactic acid out of your muscles, beyond that initial recovery it’s also smart to keep moving with some gentle walking. Try to avoid sitting still for too long, the more you move the more you’ll increase blood flow and the faster the muscles get back to normal.
GET SERIOUS ABOUT SLEEP
Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool. It’s during sleep that the body really gets to work recovering and resetting. Hormone levels normalise, muscle repair takes place and we give our body the shutdown time it needs to restore some order. Following a good sleep routine is important so get your Instagram posting done, respond to all your messages of support and then switch the phone off well before bed time. Supplementing with magnesium, taking a warm bath and ensuring there’s low lighting in your bedroom can all help. Also don’t be to get an early night. After the Endurance Life Sussex Ultra, I was in bed at 8.30pm, for a 6am start for the Reading Half.