I ran 21 miles this last Saturday and if I would not follow certain recovery procedures I would probably be “dead” on my next training run. This topic in general is very important for runners who go beyond the 10 mile marker or for runners who do more than one workout per day. I currently average about 10 workouts (cross training and running) per week and I admit sometimes I hate myself for doing this. I’d rather sleep a couple of hours longer per day or relax on the couch instead being out there running.
I am sure I am just an amateur when it comes to follow proper recovery procedures, but overall what I have been doing works for me on most days. Sometimes I simply take an extra rest day when I feel too tired and exhausted – based on advice from Matt Fitzgerald who has written quite a few books about running, running performance, and proper nutrition. This certain advice pretty much says that your training plan needs to be flexible enough to accommodate for these type of situations. As an example you start a recovery or easy run and you can tell that you’re feeling great and could run forever – then turn this run into a key workout and use the energy that you have. On the other side you should be able to turn a key workout into a recovery run if you just don’t have anything to give.
Back to recovery after a really long run. The first thing I do when I come home from a long run is to drink lots of fluids. I usually have a Muscle Milk Shake with a good mix of carbs and protein. And I have to correct myself, I usually have two of these shakes right after a long run. With the second one walk upstairs and fill the bath tub with ice-cold water. The cold water in my house feels extremely cold and so I never felt the need to add ice for an ice bath. I will then sit in the ice-cold water for up to ten minutes and enjoy the second recovery shake. After the bath in ice-cold water I take a hot shower and wash of the stress and the sweat from the long run. I get dressed into shorts and T-Shirt and then I take a nap of one to two hours.
After being woken up by my son finishing my nap I head downstairs and eat something. I not hungry after drinking two quarts of recovery shake and so I always eat one to two hours after my run. Common knowledge says that it is important to re-fuel within an hour after a heavy workout and in my case the recovery shake takes care of it. So, when I eat it is still important what I eat, but it is less critical from a timing perspective. Here is a picture of a recovery dish. I ate homemade steel-cut oatmeal with Apple and Raisins. Oatmeal provides great amounts of fiber, carbs, and protein. Oatmeal contains a wide array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and there is a good option for a recovery meal. Your body needs protein to repair the muscle tissue after a long run and the carbs help to re-fill your glycogen stores. Apples are filled with vitamins and fiber and also help your body to repair the muscle tissue. Raisins contain substances called polyphenolic phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties – exactly what your body needs after a heavy workout.
Of course there are plenty of other options for a healthy recovery from a long run. Meals containing salad or other veggies are a great option for recovery, too. Whatever you eat, make sure you have a healthy mix of complex carbs and protein as that will further aid your body to recover correctly.
I will continue to rest for the next couple of hours and reduce physical activity to the bare minimum. I will also drink a lot of water and some green tea for the rest of the day. Green tea has antioxidants which will fight the free radicals that “attack” the cells in your body and would delay recovery if not actively taken care of. Green tea is like a drink with super-powers and if you have not looked at the health benefits of green tea (not just for recovery purposes) I highly recommend you do so.
At night I will go to bed fairly early and make sure that my body gets enough rest. The next day I often go for a so-called recovery run. A recovery run is a slow, short run of no more 2-3 miles. As an example, my recovery run this last weekend was a run with my 8 year old son. He does not run super-fast and he takes a few breaks here and there. I will continue to limit physical activity for the rest of day, but end up to do some yard work in one way or the other. Yard work is more like cross training and my legs don’t get taxed too much. I will continue to hydrate with lots of water and also try to eat healthy enough.
Recovery after a long run is very important and you have to figure out what works for you. Most importantly you need to re-fuel carbs and protein within the first hour after your run and then continue from there. Eat healthy and drink lots of water and you should be good. I highly recommend an ice-bath as it dramatically helps your legs to come back to life. Here is a picture of me sitting in the ice-cold bath tub.