Running Questions – Recovery
After a long run or a really hard race your body needs to recover from the stress and strain of the event. During the course of a fast race no matter the distance, over the double digit miles of your long run, or after the elevation climb of hill repeats or scaling new heights your body needs to recover. Your body needs to rebuild.
The damage done by asking your muscles to respond to the task put in front of it comes in the form of micro tears in the muscle fibers, depletion of energy stores, inflammation in the connecting tissues i.e. tendons, ligaments and joints. and overall dehydration.
I’m not a doctor, nor a coach, but I’ve read a lot of material about the need to recover after gurgling workouts or difficult races. I’m not saying my recovery program is the best. I’m sure I could do more, in fact I feel like I could work harder on recovery. I do feel like I do a good job of getting my body back on the road in fairly good shape. What does my recovery program look like?
REST: After a long/hard run, either racing or in training, you need to give your body some time off. I’ve read different opinions on the length of the recovery period. If I’ve run a hard race, less than marathon distance, I give myself a few days i.e. two to three days. During this time I do no running and maybe some lite walking. For a marathon or longer I give myself at least a week off my feet. This week has no running and limited walking. I have a long walk to get to my office from the parking lot at work I use that as my recovery walks. For ultra-distances (> than 26.2 miles) and 100 milers, I’ll take two weeks down with only a short recovery run in the second week. You need rest. You need down time.
ICE: Most elite athletes have full ice baths as part of their daily maintenance routine. Not being at that level I normally go to an icing routine after races where I have some swelling or pain in my legs. I spot ice any trouble areas as soon after the run as I can. I have read and believe a full ice bath would be a better option, but I have yet subjected myself to this. I have flexible ice packs which I use to spot ice any trouble areas. I’ve also used frozen bags of peas as they easily conform to the shape of the body part. A paper cup filled with water and frozen can be used to spot ice areas tearing away the cup to expose the ice. This can get a bit messy as the ice melts away. I avoid the typical ice cube filled ice packs as the hard edges of the cubes makes the trouble areas more cranky. The best approach I’ve found is to fill buckets/coolers full of ice and water then submerge my feet, ankles or other body parts. I believe this works the best. I try to ice my trouble areas at least two to three times a day, 15 to 20 minutes per-session.
COMPRESSION: Leading up to my first 100 mile race my legs were feeling beat up, ragged and just plain tired. I was looking for something to help. I ordered my first set of compression tights and instead of wearing them during a run I wore them to bed and around the house after long runs. I found they did wonders easing the pain/tenderness. I also believe this aided in recovery as my legs regained life much after then in the past. Everything I’ve read about the benefits of compression gear is that their use increases blood flow which in turn speeds healing. I have a pair of calf sleeves that I also use after long or hard races. Not really compression related, but I also roll my legs with hand rollers (stick rollers) and compressed foam rollers. Rollers do wonders to work out “hot-spots” trouble areas and any “knots” that may be lingering. My legs afterward feel much improved. I should do this more often and make it a regular part of my training routine.
ELECTRICAL STIMULUS: A friend of mine posted a picture of her legs being treated with an Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) unit. At first I was a little skeptical. After talking with her I decided to give this method of treatment a test drive. EMS is used to prevent, or reduce, muscle atrophy. Atrophy is the weakening and loss of muscle tone. EMS also helps by increasing blood flow to muscles, increasing range of motion, increasing muscle strength, as well as enhancing muscle endurance. EMS has pain management attributes in helping muscle related pain, such as a spastic muscle, sore muscles, or tight muscles. After a few uses I am sold that EMS treatments combined with all other recovery methods speed up the body’s ability to heal itself. I use EMS treatments two times a day for 15 to 20 minutes. My legs feel better much faster since I have been using my EMS unit.
After a hard race or a long run your legs need some downtime. Don’t get caught up worrying about what miles you may be losing during this downtime, instead consider that you’re investing in your legs. Give your legs some much deserved time off for rest, icing, compression and electrical stimulus. The investment will pay off when your legs come back stronger.