Many runners spend a lot of time and energy training and preparing for race day. Be it pounding the pavement, analysing training data, preparing nourishing meals or attending massage appointments, most runners take the necessary time to gear up for their big run.
But after crossing the finish line and collecting their medal, those same runners fail to be as disciplined in their post-race recovery. Instead of drinking a cup of electrolytes, grabbing a banana and heading for the car, help your body recover quicker, and more completely.
Jamie Barnes has crossed the finish line of countless races. The exercise physiologist at The Sports Injury Clinic is currently training for the Run For The Kids and The Great Train Race events next month, and says most runners do a good job of covering off the basics of recovery.
Ideally you should eat within 30 minutes of finishing as your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard session.
"After running, my focus is on refueling and rehydrating my body," says Barnes.
"I reach for a drink that contains sodium and electrolytes, and a meal that is high in protein and carbohydrates."
Healthy snack options include trail mix, bananas, carrot sticks, yoghurt and fruit, chocolate milk and hummus with crackers.
While you may want to celebrate your PB with a few cheeky drinks at a nearby bar, Barnes says ensure you're hydrated first.
"I don't discourage anyone from enjoying the rewards of months of hard work, but try and put an emphasis on nourishing your body before heading to the bar," he says.
Post-race hydration is all about replenishing glycogen to help you recover quickly. A couple of post-race beers won't be detrimental to your recovery, but if you're dehydrated to start with, the alcohol will only make it worse.
It's tempting to plonk yourself on the ground, but keep moving by walking around the finish line or event village area for 10 minutes to bring your heart rate back to resting and prevent stiffness.
Soon after finishing, do some postrace stretches to increase elasticity and help jump start recovery. Give these four top-down stretches a go:
- Hip flexor stretch – Kneel on your right knee, with toes down, and place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent and aligned with the ankle. Place hands on left thigh. Press hips forward until you feel tension in the front of your right thigh. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- Glute pretzel stretch – Lie on your back and bend both knees. Cross one leg over the other so your foot is on the opposite knee. Bring both knees towards your chest and gently pull the uncrossed leg towards you until you feel a stretch in your buttock.
- Hamstring stretch – Extend your right leg so your right heel is on the ground in front of you. Bend your left knee and slowly lower your hips down and back, as if you were sitting into an imaginary chair. Keep your upper body tall. Repeat on opposite side.
- Calf stretch – Stand with both feet on a curb. Move the heel of your right foot backward so it hangs off the curb. Lower your right heel down to feel a deep stretch in your calf muscle. Bend both knees to deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
A few hours after the race go for a 15-minute walk, jog or swim to assist with the removal of metabolic waste.
"I find that if I sit still for too long following the race I get very stiff, so it's not uncommon for me to take a light walk in the hours afterwards. And hunt down the nearest shower," says Barnes.
If you need to return to training in the coming days, Barnes recommends immersing yourself in hip height in cold water (the beach is great, but tap water temperature is fine) for 15-minutes to help reduce muscle soreness.
Garments like Supacore compression are now worn by elite athletes, runners and players of all sports to help improve performance and speed-up recovery. After your race, keep warm and put on a pair of compression shorts, leggings or calf sleeves to reduce swelling, fatigue and muscle soreness.
Sleep and listen in
Barnes says that above all else, a good night's sleep is critical, and probably the most important recovery technique. "Try and get eight hours of sleep after the race," he says.
He also recommends runners tune-in to their body after a race.
"Persistent pain, unusual fatigue and mood swings can all be signs that you are overworking your body", he explains.
"If something doesn't feel right a few days after the race consult an Exercise Physiologist who'll provide you with a balanced training program specific to your needs. They can also conduct running assessments to adjust your running technique, which could unlock massive performance benefits."
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
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