How to recover from a half-marathon even faster
Just a few days ago, I ran my first half-marathon (the Phoenix Marathon) in more than five years (I’ve been on the full-marathon track).
And I didn’t train for it.
In fact, the longest run I had done, which was admittedly sporadic at best, was about 4 miles on a trail.
What’s more surprising/miraculous/crazy is that a) I didn’t get injured and b) actually ran the majority of it.
Now, only three days later, I’ve completed a trail run at lunch and it felt phenomenal
How did this happen???
Here’s what I’m thinking happened and why my legs felt so good only three days later:
- I eased off my per-mile pace. On race day, I dropped my pace by more than a minute per mile and went in with zero expectations and all the permission in the world to walk. This was about completing the half-marathon, not PR’ing.
- I wore a tried-and-true workout outfit. Most runners will tell you not to eat or wear anything new on race day. Well, when you haven’t prepared at all, this concept is kind of thrown out the window. The second best thing to do is choose a workout outfit that consistently performs on your training runs…including your worn-in running shoes rather than your new pair (Asics vs Hokas in this case).
- I supplemented heavily on the course. I have a history of dealing with hyponatremia (basically throwing your body’s natural balance of sodium and electrolytes off because of too high of a water intake or use of an over-the-counter pain reliever, which affects water absorption), so every time I train for a distance race, I carefully supplement. As an Arizona runner, this means going for Gatorade rather than water and Gu instead of fluids. This race included two caffeinated shots/drinks as natural energizers.
- I used my compression socks. Since implementing compression socks into my training and races, I’ve noticed a little more control in my legs and feet, which comes in handy when fatigue begins to set in.
- I played “happy” music. Nothing can stand in my way when I hear Pharrell’s “Happy” start bumping on my iPhone. Keep your phone stocked with happy, upbeat (but not overly energized) music for the natural mood lifts you will inevitably need.
Okay, so that was race day. Next up: the recovery, which really begins the second you cross that finish line. I’m not an expert or a physician, but here is my SMART Half-Marathon Recovery Plan and what I did to speed up the rebuilding process (along with a cool acronym…that always helps, right?).
SMART Half-Marathon Recovery Plan
SMART= Socks, Move, Assess, Replenish & Time
Socks. Yep, those compression socks again. Time and time again, I hear runners sing the praises of these wonderful socks and boy, do they help! The compression is thought to aid in circulation. Increased circulation means blood flow; better blood flow means getting that yucky lactic acid build up out of there and the good stuff in. I wore mine all the way home, showered and then put on a fresh pair for the rest of the day.
Move. The best way to keep your legs loose and blood flowing is to do the counter-intuitive…the exact OPPOSITE of what your legs want to do after running 13.1 miles. MOVE. Walk around the house, do whatever you can; just don’t lay down for the rest of the day and be a couch potato. Enjoy a lazy bout a few days later or you will truly regret it.
Assess. Half-marathons and other long distance runs can do damage to your muscles. The bad habits your feet have picked up along the way (landing on the side of your foot or on the back of your heel, for instance) are more pronounced as you’re continually doing it for miles and miles. Assess the aches and pains and make sure they’re not injuries. Ice baths (yes, get 10-pound bags, dump them into bath tub, and sink those tootsies and your body into it–or simply go out to the pool if it’s unheated in a colder climate) can help with inflammation, but if you’re still hurting, you may have done something. Go easy.
Replenish. Your body expels fluids through breathing and sweat and your muscle tissue breaks down as you run. Replenishing your body immediately following the run is critical. Gatorade or a similar electrolyte-infused drink as well as a protein-rich drink such as a bottle of chocolate milk (yum!) or even Muscle Milk-like products can do WONDERS. I downed a sample bottle after my race and I know it made a difference in my recovery! You want to get that protein into your body within 30 minutes of completing your run. If you are already used to a protein supplement, consider stashing it in your gear check bag and mixing it up after your finish.
Time. This is probably the hardest part of recovery for many people. Anxious to capitalize on that banked endurance, some of us get a little too excited and decide to tackle a 10K run or maybe even another race following the half-marathon. Please know that while there are some die-hards out there who thrive on ultras and running race after race, most of us haven’t prepared for that. Give your body time to mend. Some people recommend giving yourself a day for every mile run, but I would suggest to you that that’s overkill. Go for a walk every day following the half-marathon and see how you’re feeling. Run on a softer surface like dirt or grass for your first run back at it to give yourself a little more shock absorption.
Congratulations on preparing for and completing a half-marathon! It’s a huge accomplishment and one everyone should pursue at least once in their lifetime.
Run happy, my friends.
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