Ahhh the long run. Runners love to hate it and hate to love it.
Actually, I take that back, most of us love to love it. But I digress.
The long run, for those unfamiliar, is a workout typically done once per week when training for some sort of long distance race, such as a half marathon or above. The goal of the long run is to slowly build up the cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength necessary to cover 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles, or more by spending time on your feet and, more often than not, plenty of time in the aerobic zone (hence, the “slow” concept of the “long slow distance” ).
And while long runs are necessary, and some of us even find them fun, there is no denying that sometimes long runs can not only hurt but make you really hungry and tired.
So while no one can blame you for wanting to top your latest 15 miler off with a cold beer, potato chips, and a long nap on the couch, there are a few things you should probably do to ensure the best chance at proper recovery.
HYDRATE. And I don’t mean with a cold beer. Well at least, not quite yet. Rehydrating post workout is probably the most important thing you can, and need, to do. So instead of that beer, start instead with some water, and perhaps even an endurance-specific electrolyte recovery drink. The rule of thumb is to drink between 16 and 24 ounces of sports drink for every pound of body weight you lost during exercise. Proper hydration will not only help speed up recovery from your long run, but will help you avoid all of the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, side effects of dehydration.
REFUEL. That is, eat something. Sure, it’s incredibly easy to justify an entire plate of bacon, a whole pizza, and a quart of ice cream when you just ran 20 miles. But keep in mind the food you consume post run is your best chance at refueling your muscles and aiding in recovery. So which would you rather reach for…something healthy or junk? Make smart choices: find something with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio to help replenish calories, nutrients, and glycogen stores as well as speed up muscle recovery. And as an added bonus: smart, healthy choices will help avoid the ever popular long run weight gain.
ACTIVE RECOVERY. Don’t worry, your Netflix marathon is coming soon, but don’t hit the couch quite yet First, give your legs a little bit of attention with light stretching or gentle massage. Hop on the foam roller, grab “The Stick,” or drop into your favorite yoga poses to help lengthen and relax your tense muscles. Avoid vigorous massage as it may damage the already injured muscle fibers. Take a short, easy walk to encourage blood flow to the muscles, which will help further stimulate recovery.
ICE BATH? This one is up to you. Researchers are still on the fence as to the benefits of an ice bath, but if you are up for the subjecting yourself to the icy cold torture of an ice bath, it might be worth a try. If you are new to the ice bath practice, check out the tips in this article “To Ice Bath or Not to Ice Bath: That is the Cold Question“, to ensure you go about it safely.
REST. Now you can finally prop those feet up. Take a nap, play an extended round of Candy Crush, read a book, do whatever you need to do to stay off of your feet for a while. Allow those muscles to relax as they begin to heal. But the key here is to not spend the rest of your day on the couch. After a while, consider going for a walk to get the blood flow circulating to those muscles once again (see “Active Recovery” above). I can assure you, it really does work. My worst post marathon recovery was when I spent 8 hours in a car almost immediately after the race. My best post marathon recovery was when I spent 8 hours walking around Disney World almost immediately after the race. Rest is important, but active recovery does help.
While the hard work is done during your long run, the hours and days after are where the progress in your running strength actually happens. While no one can blame you for having the “I just ran really, really far, I can eat/drink/do whatever I want” feelings, the choices you make post long run can really make or break your recovery and progress. Now, I’m certainly not saying to NOT treat yourself, I like my post long run I.P.A. as much as the next person. But making smart choices in your recovery the majority of the time will absolutely pay off on race day.