If, like me, you have just competed in a half marathon, you might be feeling not only a little battered and bruised, but also at a loss about what to do in terms of efficient recovery. Rest and recovery are a huge part of the healthy training process, but very often neglected – unwisely so!
My first port of call is an hour-long remedial massage by one of my trusted colleagues at The Massage Lab. A good therapist will know that a post-event treatment need not be deep and painful and they will tailor their techniques to your needs and state of recovery. Personally, I go for a light flushing massage the day of the race and leave the heavier “repair” work for later in the week, when my muscles’ recovery is well under way.
RETURN TO ACTIVITY
I have found some useful information about a safe return to physical activity from coach Jenny Hadfield. It seems like common sense, but as that is a sense often forgotten, here is a reminder:
“Much like your training, recovering from a half-marathon – especially your first – is highly personal. I will give you some guidelines to follow, but keep in mind that the key to efficient recovery is to practice patience, be aware of how you’re feeling as you progress, and understand that healing continues even when the soreness subsides.
The rule of thumb for recovery is to take one day easy for every mile in the race. That doesn’t mean lying on the couch eating crisps for two weeks. It simply means gradually increasing your runs for the next two weeks while keeping the intensity easy. It can be tempting to get back on the horse and run hard after the post-race soreness subsides; however, doing so dramatically increases your chances for niggling aches and pains and even injury. Especially for first-timers.
You’ve just spent the better part of three or four months following a structured training program. Now is the time to take a one-week holiday from running and let your body heal. I once asked women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe how she recovered post race, and she told me she took one month off running and cross-trained to give her body and mind a chance to rest and fully recover.
Never underestimate the power of rest and recovery, for it allows your body and mind time to adapt, grow stronger and accomplish your goals. Here are a few ideas on how to develop your recovery plan.
- Take a break from the impact of running for four or five days, and cross-train three times for 25 to 30 minutes with activities that are low impact and will warm your muscles. Walking, cycling, and swimming are great alternatives. Incorporate full-body flexibility exercises after every workout (yogais perfect). Consider treating yourself to a massage and taking complete rest days as well.
- Follow a “reverse taper” over the next two weeks and gradually increase your running time / distance. Start with an easy 30-to-40-minute run later this week to see how things feel. If you can run without aches, pains, or altering your stride, continue to gradually build your running time and distance with a few more 45-to-50-minute easy runs. If all goes well, by week three you’ll be back to a solid foundation of miles.
- You’ll maintain your running fitness for the next round of half-marathon training by running three or four times per week for a total of 15 to 20 miles per week. A typical maintenance training week might look like this:
- Alternate long runs once per week (6 miles, 7 miles, 8 miles, 6 miles)
- One or two easy runs of 4 to 5 miles
- A moderate-to-fast run of 4 to 5 miles (fartlek, tempo, negative split)
- Easy to moderate cross-training
- Strength training twice per week, either on cross-training days or after easy runs
Recovery starts the minute you cross the finish line. Everyone recovers at different rates and the speed at which we recover depends on many variables like the intensity of your race performance, sleep, stress, diet, age, and even the race climate. It’s a good idea to keep a log and track as many of these variables as possible. You’ll learn how to develop an efficient recovery plan that works for you.”
Congratulations and Happy R&R!