Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Top 9 Marathon Recovery Essentials

Months of training, hours of running, all for one shiny medal, well that an a totally awesome accomplishment to be super proud of!  Marathon training has come and gone and so has the big event...so what now?  All kinds of physically and emotionally feelings may come over you in the hours, days and even weeks following the big race.  You may want to jump right into another race or never run again, but one thing is certain: proper recovery is key.  Unfortunately it is often neglected and many runners find themselves in a bad place physically and mentally after a race (been there done that).  So here are 9 of my most helpful recovery tools, I hope some of these can help you too.

3 of my 9 Essentials: Compression, Foam Roll and Water
1. Rest
PK (pre-kids as my husband and I like to call it) I would come home from a long run and veg out on the couch, eating whatever I wanted, watching whatever I wanted on the TV and just relax.  Gone are those days, but trust me, having my babies at the finish line is a way better trade off.   Now, finishing a race typically involves me carrying one of our kids for the several mile hike back to the car, coming home to laundry, dishes, meal prepping and playing hide-and-go-seek.  Finding time for that crucial post-race rest can be a little tricky, but still absolutely necessary.  So for me, I hit the hay pretty early the night of the race and make sure to clear my schedule for the next morning to catch a couple extra ZZZ's (well that is if my kids decide to sleep through the night).  I also try squeeze in extra hours throughout the week by going to bed at least 20-30 minutes early each night.  Much of my job is spent on my feet, and of course when I get home, I'm still standing while making dinner and tending to the kiddos, but I do make an effort to sit down for rest periodically throughout the day.  In a perfect world, we would all get to recover the way I used to.  But let's face it, how many of us still get to be that lucky now that we're grown ups?  We all have to return to work and families, life doesn't stop because we ran a marathon.  But despite of all our responsibilities, it is still very important we do not neglect the importance of rest and sleep following our big run.  So if you can't veg out for days, squeeze in rest as often as you can throughout the week.

2. Food
I LOVE food!  Anyone who knows me, knows how much food I can put away at any given time.  But for some odd reason (maybe all that course GU and Gatorade), the hours following a race I cannot eat or drink a thing!  So typically no Michelob Ultra and Dunkin Donut holes for me at the post race party.  But nutrition and hydration are super important after running all that time, so in the hour or so following a run, I definitely make sure to drink down a high protein recovery shake.  A favorite of mine is Vega Sport Performance Protein.  It's super yummy and not filled with a bunch of junk that can cause gastric issues (which can be very common for runners post race).  After I start to feel better and my appetite returns, it's game on!  Bring on the food!  Of course as much as I would like to go crazy though, I definitely do my best to still make (somewhat) healthy choices as well as keep my portions in check.  Also, to help keep me from going crazy with post race indulgences, I have a 24-hour rule.  The rest of the day and half of the next following the race I enjoy post race treats but when that time is up, I try to clean my diet back up and get back on track.  We often take proper nutrition for granted.  It is vital for proper recovery to eat a healthy, clean diet.  So reward yourself for your hard work, but don't sabotage your recovery with days upon days of poor eating.

3. Water
Drink more water than you could ever possibly imagine drinking.  Once you felt as if you have had enough, drink so more.  Don't wait until you can see your veins and your head is throbbing to drink more water, keep drinking (and visiting the potty) in the days following your race.  Water helps to replenish so much in your body.  Being hydrated will help with muscle recovery, keep your digestive system in check, provide mental clarity, and over all just help you feel better.  If you're not a huge fan of plain old water, add some lemon or cucumber for a little flavor.  You can also boost your hydration with products like Nuun or Cocogo.  Avoid alcoholic beverages as well as sugary drinks like soda and juice.  Good old fashioned water will be your best friend post run so bottoms up!

4. Compression Wear
Those snazzy looking compression socks are not just to tie your outfit together on race day.  I have found they actually serve a great purpose post run as well.  Your muscles have been through a lot, not to mention what you have put your cardiovascular system through.  Lower leg compression wear helps your body recovery not only by providing support to your tired calves and shins, but some research has also shown benefit with increases in blood flow and lymph removal during the recovery period.  Of course the verdict is still out if it is just a placebo effect and us runners are just jumping on the latest fad, but if we find benefit (real or perceived) than I suppose it's worth a shot!  Hands down my favorite compression wear is Tiux Compression Socks, and you will be sure to find me rocking my super cute socks during and after my race.

5. Ice
I have never been brave (or crazy) enough to try an ice bath, but I have submerged my legs in a cold plunge a time or two.  Like compression wear, I have read conflicting research on ice baths, but again if you find the benefit, then I say go for it.  I do however, apply ice to certain regions that seem to be inflamed post run.  Having suffered an Achilles injury last fall, that is one of the first areas that gets an ice pack.  After this last run, my opposite calf apparently hates me now, so you better believe it is getting iced up too.  Ice is great for acute injuries and inflammation, so be sure to apply ice, or go for that ice bath as soon as possible post race.  Typically within 24-48 hours following the race you will receive the most benefits from icing.

6. Peppermint Oil
I don't know much about essential oils but I have come across peppermint oil and am now a firm believer in how it helps aid in my recovery.  Rubbing some peppermint oil on my sore muscles serves many purposes for me.  I am able to self massage that area, the oil seems to help "open up" my tight muscles, and the smell is very relaxing and refreshing.  Again, I am no expert on these oils, but since discovering peppermint oil, it have become a staple in my recovery.

7. Foam Rolling
Oh it hurts so good.  Digging into those tight, sore muscles post race may seem agonizing, but it is a necessary evil.  Those over worked, super tight muscle fibers need to be loosened up and using a foam roller or another tool like The Stick is one of the best ways to get the job down.  If you have the luxury of getting a full body deep tissue massage, all the better!  But for me, and probably most of us, we will have to stick to the DIY approach.  Spend about 20-30 seconds rolling out tight areas (common areas are quads, abductors, IT band and glutes) and be sure to focus your breathing to help you through it.

8. Leave It Out On the Course
You may have heard of the "Marathon Blues."  It may hit you like a ton of bricks the day or so following the race or be more a gradual process in the weeks to follow, but it happens to us all to some degree.  We spend months training for one morning of running and when it comes and goes, despite how we finish, we are left with a sense of emptiness.  The could've-should've-would've's set in as well as the so-what's-next!?!  First and foremost, try your best to leave it all out on the course.  Yes, we learn and grow from each experience, but recognizing we cannot change the past is vital to moving on.  So take some mental (or written if you journal) on things you learned for next time, but know what's done is done from this last one.  Next, as lost as you may feel now that you do not have training runs scheduled and no race to stress about, enjoy some time running and working out for the fun of it!  Reconnect with why you began doing this all in the first place, and hey, even take a few days off, I always do.
9. On to the Next One (Well, Kinda)
I know, I know, I said take some time to rest and also not to dwell on your last race.  But who are we kidding, you know you're going to be wondering when and how you will PR!  Of course I am by no means suggesting you find another marathon in the immediate future.  You are going to want to give your body (and mind) several months to rest up after that much distance.  So what I like to do after marathons is pick some shorter distance races to work towards like 10k's and eventually a half, before jumping back into marathon training again.  Give yourself a break from the longer distance and see what you can do in some mid distance races for a while.  Another thing I like to do post marathon is run a few events with new runners.  Last year I ran with a friend for her first ever 5k and this Spring I will be crossing the finish line with another friend at her first ever half marathon!  PR's are fun, but it's also great to get to be there for other runners.  And I guess it's just the coach in me, but there is nothing like being there to help push and motivate new runners, especially when they are your friends and you know how much it means to them!

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