The best methods for recovering from long runs

Posted March 31, 2015 in running, half-marathon, half-marathon training, workout, recovery, fitness, healthy living, foam rolling, flexibility


I'm going to be real, training for the Lincoln Half-Marathon this year has been rough. This will be the seventh time I've run Lincoln and my ninth half-marathon. Unfortunately, running doesn't get easier for me.

I've been getting down on myself because my runs have been slow, my hamstrings have been chronically tight and I haven't had a whole lot of energy during my runs. I think back to two years ago, when I felt really awesome running, and I feel like I'm failing.

I know the reason I've been struggling is because of the fitness classes I'm teaching. I'm teaching four cardio classes a week, and I'm struggling to get in my weekday runs and incorporate strength training into my routine.

I was going to BodyPump about twice a week this past month for strength training, but I really just feel like it made it harder to run. Mondays I was trying to go to BodyPump at 5 a.m., run at noon and teach Piloxing in the evening. It definitely wasn't always happening, but on days it did I wasn't giving any of my workouts 100%. And the problem with doing so much is that I could injure myself.

The other reason my runs have been a struggle is because I haven't been recovering properly. Yes, I always get in some stretches and make a post-run smoothie with a mix of protein and carbs, but there is more I could be doing to help work out my tight hamstrings.

There's less than five weeks until the Lincoln Half-Marathon, so it's time I get really serious about my recovery to help improve my runs. So today I'm sharing the best ways to recover from long runs…

Dynamic stretching before running - Yes, recovery starts before you even start running! These are stretches with movement that help activate your muscles. I can always tell a difference between running on cold muscles and running after a warm up using dynamic stretches. I just feel much more loosened up. Also, running without a warm up can cause injury. Dynamic stretches could include slow high knees, walking lunges with a twist or my fave - downward facing dog to upward facing dog. I also like to walk for a block or two before starting my run.

Cool down - After running for a long period of time, it's important to allow your body to cool down a bit. It's important to slowly bring your heart rate down and bring your body back to a resting state. Walking for 3-10 minutes (depending on the effort of the run) should be sufficient. I need to do this!!!

Static stretching after running - Running makes your muscles tight, which is why it's important to stretch out your muscles. Stretching can actually help improve your performance because it elongates your muscles. Doing static stretches (stretches you hold for about 30 seconds) after a workout is best because your muscles are already warmed up. I like to do a simple quad stretch, a forward fold or downward facing dog to stretch my hamstrings, a calf stretch and a butterfly stretch to open up my hips.

Carbs + protein after running - This is the perfect combination to help restore energy (carbs) and repair muscles (protein) after a long run. You need carbs to restore the glycogen stores that were depleted during your run. I always make a post-run smoothie with lots of fruit (carbs) and plant protein powder {this is what I use ->}. You could also have Ezekiel toast and eggs, whole grain crackers and hummus or fruit and a hard boiled egg. You should eat within 30 minutes of your long run!

Stretch your toes - This isn't something I do regularly, but it can prevent problems like shin splints. Sit down on your knees, curl your toes under and sit back on your heels.

Foot massage - You don't have to hire a massage therapist to work on your feet, just a quick self-massage will work. Massaging your feet can help loosen your foot muscles after pounding on the pavement during a long run. The BF and I often give each other foot massages after long runs. It feels pretty incredible!

Foam roll - Foam rolling or myofascial release is another way to loosen up your muscles. It breaks down knots in your muscles and reduces tightness. It's also a great way to stretch out your IT band (the outside part of your thigh from your pelvis to your shin), which I'll warn you hurts like hell to foam roll! Foam rolling your IT band can actually keep your knees healthy (source). I need to foam roll more!!!

Ice bath - I've never taken an ice bath! Ice baths are said to help tired legs feel better. You can simply fill your bath tub with water and ice and sit for about 15 minutes. (click here for more on ice baths) Do you take ice baths? Is it something I should try?

Stay hydrated - Dehydration can cause muscle cramping and fatigue. I actually start thinking about my hydration the day before a long run. On Fridays, I make sure I'm drinking plenty of water to prepare for my run the following morning. Before my long runs, I usually drink about 20 oz. of water. I drink according to my thirst during my run. And I drink LOTS of water after my run.

I don't ever drink sports drinks like Gatorade. But I do an antioxidant mix with electrolytes {get it here ->} I drink based on the color of my pee (I know, TMI). But if it's super dark, I drink up. Your pee should be the color of lemonade. You can also weigh yourself before and after a run and then drink the amount lost during the run. (more on hydration and determining your sweat rate here)

Indulge in something delicious - OK, so this isn't something that is going to make you perform your best, but it is going to help you maintain your sanity. I like to have a treat on days that I complete a long run. I burned about 1,000 calories last weekend when I ran 9 miles, so indulging in something is totally fine. After my 9-miler last weekend, I had beer and pizza. Yum!

Just remember that you can't eat EVERYTHING because you ran a long way. I do eat more on long run days (and usually the day after), but I try to eat quality foods and not a bunch of junk. I tend to crave a lot of carbs when I'm running a lot, but I try to eat lots of healthy carbs to satisfy those cravings. (more on why you can't eat all the food after running here).

How do you recover after a long run?

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