You did it! You signed up, you trained, you even crossed the finish line! The moment your legs stop moving, your goal shifts from finishing the race to recovering your body. No matter if you crushed a 5k or rocked a marathon, your body needs attention. And while every body is different, there are a few things they all need after physical exertion. We’ve asked three of our ambassadors, all seasoned in crushing races, what they’ve found to be their best post-race recovery tips. Let’s meet our runners:
Maggie Smith (on Instagram as @armyspartan):
Maggie is an active duty Army Officer, PhD student, mom and wife. Her running accomplishments include the Leadville 100, some 100ks, 2 50-milers, 12 50ks, and 31 marathons (we’re exhausted…). She loves traveling and running in new places.
Christina Holzmann (on Instagram as @christinamarieholzmann):
Christina Holzmann lives in Newport Beach where she works in finance. This year she took on running and power lifting for the first time, lost over 50 pounds and has already completed 6 Spartan races and 2 triathlons!
Sarah Landman (on Instagram as @sarahliora and @raceandrecover):
Sarah Landman is a television and film producer by day and an avid runner and health/wellness coach in her free time. She is a proud Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic (she is the South Florida regional ambassador) and has completed 8 marathons to date with #9 this coming weekend and 43 half marathons. She is a die hard Health Warrior fan.
Now for the knowledge!
1. Don’t just stop!
Sarah: After a race I always try to keep my body moving for at least 30 minutes before I take a shower and relax for a bit. I also make it my business to walk around throughout the day. Walking post race helps to keep the blood flowing and can reduce stiffness/soreness in the muscles. It also helps speed up the recovery process!
Christina: Immediately after the event spend time stretching your whole body and hit the sauna or jacuzzi that evening or the following morning.
Sarah: I also suggest stretching to reduce the risk of injury (I focus primarily on legs and lower back). Foam rolling later in the day or the next day is also a great way to ease muscle soreness.
Maggie: Your body has worked really hard to take you the distance so give it a bit of TLC! Foam rolling is a great way to help your recovery process and is something I rely on heavily – I try to roll-it-out within an hour of a long race (if possible) since it really helps work out any knots I’ve developed and eliminates any cramping. I also find that I am less stiff the day after if I have taken the time to roll out my legs and upper body.
3. Flood your body with nutrients
Sarah: The post race junk food is so inviting and definitely well deserved BUT it is so vital to consume nutrient dense foods after a race. Whenever you experience hunger that’s your body saying “feed me nutrients.” Post race you may not feel hungry but then all of a sudden it hits you and you want to eat all the things…that’s when making smart choices is key. I am not saying to deny yourself a post race treat, but just make sure you are also eating the good stuff. When you take care of your body it will take care of you. If you want to recover faster fuel your body well.
Maggie: Refuel your food intake on the right foods not just loads of fast food because you earned it. An intake of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a race or a tough workout is one of my “mission essential” recovery tasks. Protein is essential for your muscles to heal and since your body, at the end of a long race, is at a deficit, I always make sure my immediate post-race intake includes protein. I ALWAYS overeat after a long race and regret it. Most recently, post-NYC Marathon, I went into my post-race meal with a plan and actually stuck to it. I crave carbs and cheese after a long race making pizza my ideal recovery food. This time, I stopped at a farmers market on the Upper West Side and snagged a focaccia loaded with butternut squash and parmesan. It was a perfect size and satisfied my cravings. I’ve avoided “watching what I eat” post-race because I treated it as my reward but NOT overeating made such a huge difference the day after that I am now going to be much more systematic about my post-race meals.
Sarah: Dehydration is very common post race and is something that should not be taken lightly. Water is life. Staying properly hydrated is key for our bodies to optimally function. Make sure you are well hydrated before, during and post race. When racing you lose a lot of water and electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium) through sweat. A good rule of thumb for everyday hydration is to drink half your body weight in ounces…when it comes to running (especially when logging the longer miles) your body needs more. Think about it, about 70% of our bodies are made up of water, so if we are dehydrated what does that do to our body?! This may be TMI but it needs to be said, an easy way to monitor hydration is through the color of your urine – you want it to be clear. If it’s yellow then you aren’t drinking enough water. Here’s a helpful tip: for faster absorption room temperature water is the best bet.
Maggie: I put in a lot of effort during a race to stay hydrated – it’s actually easier to do in an ultramarathon because I carry my own nutrition and hydration in my pack. In “shorter” races, the performance drinks are often more sugary than the ones I train with so I opt for water. This can leave me feeling off-kilter at the end because my electrolytes have been depleted and need to be replenished. Post-race drinks for me focus on the resupply of electrolytes to help get my body back in balance.
5. Try Compression
Sarah: I always wear compression when I run and post race – wearing compression sleeves/socks/tights help increase circulation and reduce lactic acid build-up. Compression has been a total game changer for me in terms of performance and with my recovery – I swear by compression sleeves during my runs/races and compression socks/tights post race. This is a non-negotiable for me.
Maggie: Sleep and rest are so underrated. I tend to cram races into my busy schedule and fail to understand the impact it will have on my body. For example, post-Leadville 100 I was so excited that couldn’t sleep (despite having been out on the course for 27 hours) and did not feel the toll the race had on me until a few days later. It took me – despite my best efforts to jump right back in – a few months before I really enjoyed running again. I failed to understand how the emotional high of completing that race coupled with the physical exhaustion and post-race “blues” would wear me out and that I needed to allow my body and mind time to heal. I find all races that you train hard for are like that – you invest a lot of yourself into your training and race day. I am now much nicer to myself after a race – I let myself unwind relax and only ease back into running when my body feels ready.
7. Practice mindfulness
Sarah: Takes some time for yourself to reflect on what you just accomplished – no matter what the distance. Pause. Breathe. Take it all in. Be grateful. Think of your “Why” – what got you here in the first place. Get rid of any negative thoughts – it’s okay if this wasn’t a PR for you. Stop stressing over things you can’t control (weather, tummy issues, etc). Focus on your accomplishment and the new lessons you learned. Set new intentions. Focus on the good stuff. Set a new goal. Be mindful and treat yourself and your body with kindness…and while you are at it, treat others with kindness too. Be grateful for the body you have and that you are able to run. Running is a privilege.