Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Recover from a Long Run (Two Hours or Longer)

I just had a good 21 mile run, not terribly fast, and not the farthest I have have run but a good pace and distance for where I am today. However, what was great about this run was that I recovered nearly perfectly and only an hour later I feel relatively great.

When a runner starts to do long runs that last longer than two hours all sorts of things happen. Form deteriorates and runners cover the distance less efficiently. Good habits deteriorating into bad habits exposes runners to a heightened risk for injury. Nearly all of the glycogen in a runner's body is depleted so that more fat has to be used to cover the distance. Basically what happens is that it takes a lot more perceived effort to cover the same distance at the same pace that earlier in the run was relatively easy. This is why the wall in marathoning is so famous, it hurts. Also, during the entire run the runner is sweating and creating micro-tears in his or her muscles. This broad combination of problems can be dealt with quite quickly after the run is over, but it can also be dealt with poorly and lead to a setback in training.

  1. The first 15 minutes are the most important:
    • Do not quit moving around, simply walking around or standing or active stretching for 15 minutes will dramatically help your muscles cool down slowly and prevent them from getting uncomfortably tight.
    • Drink some fluid. About one liter in the first fifteen minutes is pretty standard for me. I prefer milk because it contains a little of everything mentioned below.
    • Eat some carbohydrates (sugars), electrolytes (salts like sodium and potassium), and a little bit of protein (to help start repairing your muscles).
  2. For the next hour:
    • Continue to eat and drink. The more you can eat in the hour after such a long period of exercise the better, up to about 1000 calories is a good place to start. The problem often is that after such a long period of exercise the body might not feel hungry.
    • Try to be a little active before you take a nap or become a couch potato.
  3. Several hours later:
    • Eat a large meal if you did not eat much in the hour after your run. Your body is still replenishing it's glycogen supplies so a carbohydrate rich food like pasta is ideal. Your muscles are also quite torn up so consuming protein will help your muscles recover.
    • Take a walk even if it is short walk it will help stretch out your legs. A bike ride, swim, or even another run are all positive things that will help your muscles from being incredibly tight the next day. Keep in mind that whatever physical activity you do after a two hour or longer run that your primary run for the day is over, so take it easy.
These principles apply to short runs but the significance is magnified on longer runs. Now go and suffer comfortably.

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