How To Recover After A Running Race

How To Recover After A Running Race

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Race recovery starts well before the race itself. Tight muscles, dehydration, poor nutrition, or improper gear can all make for a tough day running on the trails. The best thing to do is establish a routine for both race day and everyday training. Then you need to put in the extra work to keep your body well–tuned for when the time comes to compete. I have mentioned this in a previous blog, but race day is not the time to experiment with new ideas. No new drink mixes, changes in diet, or new gear should be added to the mix since any of these new unknowns could lead to trouble.

Hydrate Slowly

Proper hydration is just good practice, whether you are a racer or not. Keeping your body “topped off” will help you be at your best. The average person can only process six to eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes. That means that steadily drinking one liter of water every hour is about all your body can efficiently take on. Chugging a gallon of water an hour before race time will just mean the water doesn’t get absorbed. Steady intake is the best way to become well hydrated and stay that way.

“After a race, you have an open window of about 30 minutes when your body is primed to absorb calories.”

Eat at the Right Time

Race–day nutrition is key to running more efficiently. Start by gaining an understanding of how long it takes for your individual nutrition choices to hit your system. Crushing a ProBar Meal Bar at the starting line of a 5K race won’t help you too much. You need to start fueling an hour or two before race time, depending on your metabolism. The same rule that applies to water applies to food – a steady intake of complex carbohydrates and proteins will be more helpful than eating immediately before the race itself. Be sure to have recovery food waiting for you after the race. Your body will be sensitive to calories, in a good way, after a hard workout. This means that proteins, carbs, and fats will be stored and put to use to aid in rebuilding and repairing muscle, and carbs and fats will help to replenish needed energy stores.

Warm Up – Stretching is Key

On race day, for those running 10K distances and under, the race itself is possibly the shortest part of your workout. Be sure to warm up your body, slowly, and then throw in some bursts of speed (four to six times under 15 seconds with full recovery). Dynamic stretching after warming up the body is my suggestion – but there are many schools of thought out there. Dynamic stretching means that you can gently move and rotate through a range of motion while stretching. Very gentle “bouncing” is also acceptable. Establish a routine that hits all the major muscle groups, as well as any problem areas that you are aware of. Even though you are running, don’t forget the upper body, especially the trapezius muscles. This blog about ski stretches includes a great “how–to” for Eagle Arms, an ideal stretch to keep your upper body supple prior to a race.

Two runners on a trail

Cool Down – Eat & Drink

And don’t forget the cool–down, which is one of the most crucial elements in successful recovery. After a race, you have an open window of about 30 minutes when your body is primed to absorb calories. While I don’t like to run with anything, nutrition– or hydration–wise while competing, I do keep a CamelBak Arc belt, loaded at the finish line. I prefill the two self–sealing water bottles – one with water and the other with OSMO Active Hydration post–race drink mix – and throw a Clif Builder’s bar in the back pocket. Since this waist belt is super easy to put on, I grab it immediately after a race and wear it during my cool down so I have a heavy dose of protein and drinkable calories within arm’s reach. You can find OSMO and Clif Builder’s bars at our White Pine Touring location.

So keep it simple, efficient, and consistent with your race day recovery. Hydration, nutrition, warming up, cooling down, and stretching are the major components that you are looking to dial in. Once you’ve got a plan in place, you can relax and enjoy the race knowing that you are poised to recover well. That way you’ll be ready for the next race that comes along.

Patrick Coffey, Summer Programs Director