Rock, Roll & Recover

As soon as I crossed the Finish Line after running my fastest marathon on Saturday, the recovery process began.  I know it might sound crazy – was I really thinking about recovery so soon after a race like that? – but it’s true, I was.

yay me!  time to recover.

Because the big picture matters to me.  Because I have done it wrong more times than I have done it right.  And I have learned that it makes a difference.  Nine marathons and countless other races have taught me that what you do in the hours, days and weeks following the marathon is crucially important to how your body and mind will feel down the road.  I wanted to do it right so that I can be running strong again soon.  A rest day here and there is good and mentally I can take it, but if I don’t recover right then I risk being injured and feeling fatigued and flat – enduring much too long without my running – and I can tell you that sounds miserable to me.

Running is my life line – it is my antidepressant and anecdote to feeling happy and strong.  So, as soon as I crossed the Finish Line on Saturday – feeling very happy with my accomplishment and yes, tired – I knew I needed to be smart and make the right choices about how to recover.

Recovery looks a little different for me after every race.  But there are a few things I know I need to do right away that do not change at all.  I go through the steps and listen to my body along the way, making sure to honor what my body is telling me and trying to keep the big picture in mind.

So far, this is what my recovery has looked like after Rock n’ Roll USA:

The first few hours (also known as doing the complete opposite of what I feel like doing!):

  • I crossed the Finish Line and kept moving, despite just wanting to sit down.  I knew if I sat my legs would likely cramp up and get cranky.  So I got my medal and drank some water as I walked around the finish area waiting for my buddy Chris to come across.  As soon as he finished and got his water and medal, we walked over to where there was more food and hydration.
  • Even though my stomach was still unhappy and the last thing I felt like doing was eating or drinking anything of substance, I grabbed a container of the TruMoo chocolate milk they were handing out and drank as much of it as I could.  Dairy is not my friend, but I drank about half the carton anyway.  Usually after my long runs I get myself a soy white mocha latte, but they didn’t have this at the finish line on Saturday (the horror!).  Chocolate milk and yummy sweet lattes serve the same purpose, though – a great combination of carbs and protein plus sugar to deliver the good stuff to your muscles faster. 
at the finish line!
  • Once we made it through the finish area, we headed straight for gear check so we could get our bags.  In my bag I had a few Picky Bars and some nuun.  I immediately ate 2 Picky Bars (though again, I was NOT hungry) and drank a bottle of nuun.  Picky Bars are the perfect thing for my finicky stomach – dairy free, gluten free and comprised of all natural ingredients with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio.  They are just what tired, glycogen-depleted muscles need after a hard workout.  They are also really light and easy for me to get down.  Nuun is also just what I needed to replenish all the electrolytes and fluids I lost while racing.  And it tastes great to me, so that was not a problem to get down.  I continued to drink nuun and water throughout the rest of the day in order to fully hydrate my body, prevent muscle cramps and flush out the build up lactic acid.
i heart nuun
  • After finding my amazing family, changing into dry clothes (which my husband had for me), and celebrating with my sister and other running buddies, it was time to go home.  On the way home we stopped at Chipotle to get my post race meal.  I really really really did not want to eat.  But I knew I had to.  I got my standard veggie burrito loaded with black beans, cheese and rice.  As a vegetarian this is the perfect recovery meal for me – again chock full of carbs and protein.  When we got home I quickly rinsed off in the shower and then ate half of my burrito.  Those things are huge and I couldn’t stomach more than that but I was sure this was good enough for starting the recovery process.
  • Then it was time for torture.  I got in an ice bath.  It was so so so cold, you guys.  I literally screamed as I got in and maybe said some not-so-nice things to Robert who was encouraging me to suck it up and get in.  Once I was in the water and he dumped the massive amounts of freezing cold ice cubes into the tub, he handed me some peanut butter cups to snack on.  He is the best — I am always in the mood for those.  I set the timer on my phone (20 minutes) and then called my sister Megan so I would be distracted while in the tub.  Ice baths are miserable but I believe in them after a hard race.  The cold sends healing blood to your muscles and helps speed up recovery.  I figured I endured more than three and half hours of pushing myself in a race, what’s 20 more minutes of discomfort?  It would be worth it.  Afterwards, I hopped into a nice warm shower and felt so much better.  When I got dressed I put on my compression socks and wore them for the rest of the day and even slept in them that night.
  •  Then later that evening I hopped on my foam roller.  I was amazed at how good I was feeling at this point.  I rolled out my IT bands, hamstrings and quads and then used my Tiger Tail stick on my calves, feet and shins.

The day after the race:

  • I woke up the next morning and was feeling great – no worse than I do after a long run.  This surprised me!  I went to run club and ran 6 miles at an easy and comfortable pace.  It’s important to move your body the day after the race as it helps flush out the lactic acid build up.  If you’re not up to running, then walk or go for an easy bike ride.  No matter how bad you are feeling, try to move. And no matter how good you are feeling, do not push yourself.  Even if your muscles are feeling great they are still tired and will fatigue easily if you do too much too soon.
  • I continued to hydrate with water and nuun, eat healthy foods, wear my compression socks (a clean pair!), rest as much as a mom of three can, and used the foam roller and stick.

The week after the race:

  • So far this week, I have not run at all despite feeling amazing and really itching to get out there.  The only place I have had muscle soreness has been in my lower legs – mainly my calves.  This was to be expected since I wore my more minimal shoes in the race (Kinvara 2).  I am amazed that with all those hills my quads and hamstrings feel so good!  That has been a pleasant surprise.  This week I have been very diligent about foam rolling and using the stick, and tonight I am treating myself to a sports massage!
  • Tomorrow I plan to run for the first time – maybe 4-6 miles at an easy pace.  This weekend I hope to run a long run of 8-10 miles, again at an easy pace.  I will treat it a bit like a reverse taper and keep speed work and tempo runs out of the picture for the remainder of this week and next week, too.

What’s Next??

I’m really excited about my running plans for the spring.  In about 5 weeks I have the GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler and I am hoping to set a new PR at that race.  If I recover right, I know I can do it!  I also have a 5K race in May and a then the ZOOMA Annapolis Half Marathon in June — so I am going to use these next few months to enjoy running, to have a break from the stress of marathon training and race shorter distances.  I plan to start marathon training again in mid June, so these next few months are about recovering, working on my speed and just loving the run.
What does recovery look like for you?  I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what works (and what doesn’t work) for me.  I would love to hear your tips and tricks!

8 thoughts on “Rock, Roll & Recover

  1. I find an epsom salt bath, followed by getting into compression clothing post long distance race followed by a short, easy run to shake out my legs the following day normally does the trick for me. rest, re-hydrating and refueling are KEY.

  2. Your recovery plan sounds perfect!! I think you are doing the right thing by looking at the big picture and trying to do what's best for your body long term.

    My first run back is usually the 5th day after the marathon. I go 5-6 miles at an easy pace. It's all about loosening up. For the next week I run 4 or 5 times but maybe add 1-2 days of cross training in the mix. It usually takes me about 2 weeks to feel more normal.

    I have recently done 2 marathons (my last being 2 1/2 weeks ago) and it is taking me a little longer to fully swing back from my last one. The course was tough and the hills did a number on my knees. I'm so ready to be back to normal so I can move on to my next training phase but I know I need to listen to my body and fully recover. It's tough being patient!

    Congrats again on a great race! Excited to see how your 10 miler goes. 🙂

  3. This looks good to me! I pounded some chocolate milk after my last marathon and followed it up with Chipotle later too. I usually have a voracious appetite, but man, it was hard for me to choke down my burrito. Unfortunately, no ice bath, as I had to check out of my hotel and drive the 3 hours home. Boo. My legs were hurting for a good 2-3 days afterwards. Carlsbad was really hilly, and my calves were stressed out (probably partially from wearing my Cortanas, which are 4mm drop as well). It took them a while to recover, and I thought I may have been injured after my first speed session back. Just be aware of how your body responds to the Kinvaras as you jump back into mileage. My coach told me to not wear my Cortanas for 2 weeks after the marathon when I complained of calf pain after my speed workout. I tried them again after the two-week break, and I felt injured again. So weird! Again, I was told not to wear them until I felt 100%. Back in the groove now with the Cortanas, but it took a while.

  4. This is really helpful! I was just thinking yesterday that I don't have a good recovery routine yet. I ran the NYC half on the weekend and then felt dizzy and a bit stiff the next day. I didn't drink or eat much after the race which was a mistake. As you said, you don't really have an appetite after a big event but you should still refuel. I have never had an ice bath either but a lot of elite athletes swear by them. Lots of things to think about (and try to improve!) 🙂

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