Many runners mistakenly think that once they finish their run, their work stops. Often they are eager to get home, get showered, and go on with the rest of their day or night. We all lead such busy lives, full of obligations, priorities, and commitments — with these sometimes competing with one another — that it’s understandable to think that “running” consists of only the action of running.
The reality is that yes, while of course the actual running part of running matters — the mileage you cover and the paces at which you run — you also need to strategize about what happens after the run. Of course, good running gear like socks, shoes and apparel matter, but what about your body? If you’re looking to break through to the next level, it’s high time that you begin caring about all the other stuff you do to support your running: and particularly how you recover.
Recovery and Running? Really?
Recovery, as a concept, at first glance may seem disconnected to the sport of running. In popular culture, after all, when we speak about recovery, it’s often in the context of people recovering from something quite remarkable, if not tragic, like drug or alcohol abuse or addiction or a terrible accident. Coupling recovery to running, then, may not initially make a lot of sense.
It’s not until we think about the action of running — the process, the series of events that happens all over (and within) our bodies — that we can see how recovery and running go hand-in-hand. Regardless of your mileage or pace, running is a full-body sport, a cardiovascular activity that implicates just about every part of your body in some capacity. In a word, running is stressful. It makes your body, particularly your heart and lungs, work harder in an effort to make you stronger.
Taking this idea one step further — no pun intended — when we really examine running at its most basic, foundational level, we can begin to understand precisely why recovery is needed. With each footfall, runners are sending more than their body weights’ worth of force reverberating from their feet upward, through their legs, into their knees, through their hips, and beyond. Consider how many footsteps you take over a given amount of time that you run, and you can surely imagine how much damage this force and havoc this could potentially wreak on your body.
How Might Runners Recover from Running?
Now that we can see how running, as a sport, necessitates adequate recovery periods, it’s worth exploring precisely how runners might recover after each run. Some suggestions are fairly high-tech and involve props and gadgets, whereas others are virtually (or literally) free of cost.
For starters, particularly after strenuous or long workouts that last more than an hour, many sports scientists and experts in the field agree that it behooves runners to replenish that which they burned during their run. Many suggest aiming for a food that provides a 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, and the market for various running- or sports-focused recovery bars and drinks is impressive right now. Even if you can’t stomach a lot of food after a hard or long run — and I’m right there with ya! — a quick snack, like apples with peanut butter, is better than nothing.
Similarly, if you’re running hard or long for over an hour, many sports scientists and dieticians will assert the importance of properly re-hydrating post-run to replace the water and electrolytes lost due to sweating. Again, the market here is rife with options, but even if you can’t stomach the idea of something like Gatorade or nuun performance, you can find tons of recipe options online to guide you in making your own post-run recovery drink. In this regard, coconut water, as a “natural” option, can be great to throw in a post-run smoothie made in your own kitchen.
Stretching, with and without gadgets
The running community has very strong opinions about the merits of stretching before a run, yet the opinion seems nearly unanimous on one general idea: it’s always better to stretch a warmed-up muscle than a cold one. When it comes to recovery, it’s a good idea to do some very light stretching post-run and post-nourishment. Your body is like a sponge post-run, so it’s most important to flood your system with all the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients it needs to adequately recover.
When it comes to stretching, here again, runners have tons of options. Even a cursory search on Youtube for “post-run stretches” or “post-run yoga stretches” will yield tons of options. If you have tools at home as an added, a foam roller, the stick, or a Roll Recovery, all of those implements can help alleviate tight or sore post-run muscles.
Even lying on the ground and putting your legs up the wall is better than nothing. It doesn’t take much effort on your part, and you may find that it makes you feel much better than simply resting on the couch for hours on end.
Alternatively, if you have a willing partner or significant other who doesn’t mind working on your sweaty, post-run body, light massage to work out the kinks and niggles is always a welcome option, too.
Your Training Will Only Be As Good as Your Recovery
What’s most important to remember, pertaining to training, is that runners will only ever be able to improve provided they give themselves adequate amounts of time and opportunity to recover. Some runners fall into the trap of thinking that they have to go hard all the time, every single day, on every single run, in order to get better.
In reality, the stress and adaptation cycle work fairly recursively, so if runners don’t give themselves time after particularly hard workouts to recover, they’ll simply be digging themselves into a hole and may eventually find themselves burnt-out, at best, or sidelined and injured, at worst.
It’s also important to remember that people recover differently from running hard. Anything from your gender to your genetics, to your age, and even the type of running you did (sprinting, trail running, running long, and the like) can play a huge role in determining how you’ll recover or how much time you’ll need before you feel 100% again. It’s critical that runners do not compare themselves to their peers and wonder why they can’t get right back at it again, so fast after a hard run, while their peers can. Again: everybody — and every _ body — recovers differently.
By paying just as much attention to recovery as they do to training, runners may find that they’ll be able to train better, longer, harder, faster, and more effectively than ever before. Your body will be the greatest guide to let you know how much, and what type, of recovery it needs. Listen closely, and let it guide you appropriately.