Here are the top 3 ways to recover like a pro as observed by me:
1. Have a team of sports therapists at your beck and call.
2. Have a personal chef to create an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant filled post race meal.
3. Be lucky enough to have superior recovery genes in comparison to 99.9% of the population.
What's that you say? You don't have a team of sports therapists to take care of you? No personal chef? Not a freak of nature? Well, I've got none of the above either but yesterday, I managed to get out for a 15km run just 1 week post marathon. 15km was pretty ambitious but I think I could have comfortably managed 10km before I wanted to sit down. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with this "old" bod. I also think that fact that I wanted to get out and run was huge. I'm obviously not mentally scarred from this last marathon, which is a good thing considering I'm running another one in November.
I'm chalking my decent recovery up to the things I did immediately post race and in the days that followed. Since you've read this far, I'll let in you in on what I did:
1: Stretch it Out: This is no easy feat after running 26 miles. Your legs are moving much like a newborn fawns and any sort of bending could result in you falling flat on your face. Find a bench, a tree or a burly dude and gently stretch your hamstrings, glutes and calves. Walk around a bit and stretch some more. You'll be glad you did.
2: Drink Up: Drink a lot of fluids. D'uh. You just ran 42.2k and sweat for over 3 hours straight. You need water. Or beer. Or both.
3. Re-Fuel: You may not feel like eating when you're done but do your best to at least eat a banana. Once you're able to eat get a good balance of protein and carbs into your system. The protein will help repair all the damage you just did to your muscles and the carbs will help replenish the glycogen stores that you just depleted. Ideally you're eating something that is somewhat healthy (i.e not a Big Mac). But if you're not, whatever, you just ran a marathon, I'm sure whatever it is you re-fuel with will get burned off relatively quickly as your body heals. I can't say that I was a shining example of healthy with my post race food. Immediately post race: 1 banana, a couple of handfuls of triscuit crackers (got a box at the finish line!?), water. In the car: protein shake. At home: water, coffee, 2 slices of bacon, 1 blueberry ricotta pancake, a burger with cheese, mayo, relish & ketchup. 1/2 a light beer. Nap. 1/2 cup of cottage cheese with peanut butter & chocolate protein powder. Dinner: 2 pieces of pizza, 3 garlic toast bites, 2 chicken wings. More water. Go with whatever your body is craving. I wanted fat and salt so that's what I ate.
4. Chill Out: Have an ice bath. This is seriously unpleasant at the beginning but once you lose feeling in your legs it's great! I recommend keeping your stinky running shorts on and wrapping your upper body in a nice thick hoodie. Think of it as a pre-wash for your running gear.
5. Turn up the Heat: After the ice bath, have an epsom salts bath. This will feel like heaven. You'll probably want to fall asleep. I'd advise against that unless you don't mind looking like a prune. You'll want to make sure you drink lots of water while you're sitting in the tub.
6. Squeeze it: If you've got any compression gear, put it on! I went a little overboard and put on my zoot compression knickers and my compressport full socks on after I got out of the tub. It was a good look. Super hot. All I needed was a pair of sandals and I would have been ready to hang with the blue hairs.
7. Get Your Rub On: Even if you don't have a benefits plan that covers massage, I highly recommend you pay the $90 or whatever it costs and get a post race rub down, ideally a couple of days after the race. I can pretty much guarantee that it won't be a relaxing experience but it will definitely help put a bit more spring into your post marathon shuffle.
8. Keep Moving! I know this sounds incredibly counter-intuitive but it's the best thing for you. Trust me, all I wanted to do after the marathon was be horizontal but I found that the longer I stayed still, the harder it was for me to get back up. I made a point to move around as much as possible in the days that followed even if it meant going down stairs backwards.
9. Work it Out: This goes hand in hand with #7. You may not be ready to go for a run yet but there are other things you could do to help facilitate the removal of lactic acid. A walk / shuffle around the block. An easy spin on your bike or, a nice easy swim. I went for a swim 3 days post race and while pushing off the wall and kicking didn't feel great for the first few laps, by the time I got out of the water, I was definitely walking a bit better.
10. Stand Tall: I don't think I have to tell any runner twice, but just in case...give yourself a pat on the back and BE PROUD of yourself and your accomplishment. You've done something that less than 1% of the population has done and that's no small feat.
What are your post race recovery strategies?