Maybe you know this already (but I’m going on a hunch that perhaps you don’t), here the secret: your recovery starts during your latest run.
It is intertwined with the discipline to stick to your planned distance, time, cadence, heart rate zone, interval repetitions, altitude, or whatever it is that your training plan focuses on. It hides in the amount of fluid you’ve taken onboard during your run. The food you ate to prepare for the run; is your body fully prepared for you even look for your shoes?
Your recovery also comes from your cool down, your stretches and how much fluid you replenished.
Of course there are rest days dedicated to maximizing your recovery, but other than eating a balanced diet, taking it easy, and drinking enough fluids to keep you hydrated, what else could you actually be doing to help aid your recovery?
Especially as training programmes for longer distances (marathons and ultra marathons) don’t come with many rest days, so you’ve got to get pretty good self management.
Here’s some extra recovery bonus secrets from an ex-athlete, a sports injury professional and someone with a left knee that likes to groan a lot (But still manages ultra distances) Here’s what I do and have advised so many others.
I’ve been running long distance for quite some years now, and this notion of drinking whilst you run used to aways resulted in pain (let alone hearing the horror stories of rulers slipping at water stations and getting race-ending injuries. NO THANKYOU!) but as the distances got longer, its something you really have to consider. I mean, how are you going to carry it?
- Superhero style waist hydration belt?
- Just in your hands?
- Run with a backpack?
- Invest in a Camelpack?
Its worth trying them all out, get all your run friends together and try their kit before buying (they can get pricey). And I do think you have to try them in order to understand what’s best for you (we all have our preferences, just like what phones we buy, or cars we drive).
Hydration is really important. We know that. You also know how to check if you’re hydrated, don’t you? (Check your urine colour – if you haven’t peed yet, then its likely you’re not hydrated enough to run!)
Isn’t there something better you could be drinking instead? Water is great. But it gets boring on a long run, so I make my own sports drink for my camelpack:
- ½ water
- ½ fruit juice
- a pinch of rock salt
(orange juice no pulp is my go-to)
Give it a little shake and its all good to go. A natural sports drink.
Berries are high in anti oxidants, and cherries are full of a compound called anthocyanins – shown to relieve both muscle pain and weakness, inflammation and cellular damage after hard exercise. In-particular European grown, Montmorency tart cherry juice (a little sour than the normal cherry) is scientifically proven to improve recovery time and repair muscle damage compared to other dinks.
If you can’t get your hands on Montmorency juice, then any tart cherry juice will suffice; it’s much more concentrated so will have a higher boost of antioxidants in less volume.
I quite like the slap in your face flavour from cherry juice on the rocks, if that’s not for you try sipping on a spritzer of sparkling water, tart cherry juice and a wedge of lemon (fancy mocktail). Alternatively you could pour a little into your post-workout smoothie, completely your choice.
Yes, they work.
Compression was traditionally used in medicine to aid circulatory issues to increase the flow of oxygen rich blood to the chosen area. However in more recent studies, the use of compression has also been found to:
- Improve recovery of muscle strength and power
- Reduce markers of muscle dammage and inflammation
- Improve body awareness
- Decrease feelings of soreness and fatigue
- Reduce swelling
- Decrease muscle vibratons
- Improve VO2 max
- Increase runners aerobic threshold
… Do I need to go on?
Although running attire is tight and Lycra material, it doesn’t classify as compression clothing. The most common option for runners to wear and compress whilst running is calf sleeves. But do make sure they fit right, you don’t want them to become so tight it ends your run.
The safest bet (and one I use myself religiously) is to wear compression tights throughout your recovery period. Whether that’s a dedicated timed session, a whole day after a long or difficult run, or just until you have to pick the kids up from school.
If they’re a little out of your budget, or your not too sure, there’s always the option to try leggings a size smaller than what you would normally need. Voila! Compression tights. Yes, this is for men too.
So far you’ve hydrated well on your run, you completed a thorough cool down, stretched, got your cherry juice recovery smoothie prepared and your leggings ready to slip on. But WAIT!
We forgot the bath! Contrast bathing has to be my nemisis. Throughout my sporting career it has always worked a treat, but most definitely a love-hate relationship.
Contrast bathing is warm then cold, then warm then cold then warm… Okay, you get the picture. And depending on your bathroom set up, and what you find your body responds well to, depends on how you’re going to conduct this:
- Option 1: ice pack 10 minutes. Sit in a warm water bath for 10 minutes and repeat
- Option 2: ice bath for 10 minutes. Warm shower for 10 minutes and repeat
- Option 3: ice pack for 10 minutes. Hot water bottle for 10 minutes if your focusing on a smaller area.
(I’ve even tried ice bath and then eaten blanket, and that worked well too). *please do not put ice directly onto skin, use a towel or ice wrap*
What the point in contrast bathing?
We’re basically playing with blood flow as the ice causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels. Locking the doors to and from the area. Then the heat vasodilates, Veinss and arteries fly open and fresh, oxygen rich blood comes rushing to the area, a boat load of nutrients, that our body can use to help heal the area.
These kind of recovery sessions follow intense workouts, long run sessions that cause microscopic damage to your muscles which we are trying to aid, doesn’t mean a cheeky cherry juice, hot/cold bath and leggings wont hurt on the other days too.