Recovery tips to make you a stronger runner

The last two to three years of my running journey have been quite an education. Coming off one injury after another and trying to get stronger, I learned a lot about my own perseverance and determination to accomplish my goals and, more importantly, what it takes to get my body stronger so I can pursue those lofty goals.  Aside from the obvious like nutrition, strength training, and good coaching, I found that consistency in recovery, for me, has probably been the most important. 

Reflecting on My Last Race Where It All Came Together

My most recent race, the 800 meter at the Masters Indoor Track National Championships, made me feel like everything I have been doing over the last year finally worked. It was the first race I competed in since coming off my injuries that I felt fit. I actually felt like a competitor. I have had a lot of great races over the last year, but getting stronger is a work in progress that doesn’t happen overnight so this particular race felt like everything I’ve been doing finally came together.

The 800 meter track race is one of the hardest. Your body spends most of its time racing in the anaerobic phase so you have to be strong enough to “hold on”. It was the first time I raced 800 meters where I felt like I was strong enough to handle the intensity of that race.  Thinking about this race and others, it was clear (besides having a great coach, of course) all the changes in my nutrition and strength training and more importantly, my recovery, had gotten me to this point.

Lessons Learned: A Good Recovery Program is Vital

With all of the injuries I have sustained in the past and the chronic issues I have to manage, my recovery is a laundry list of things I have to check off on a daily basis. Obviously, my recovery is bit intense not just because of my training, but because I have to stay ahead of my ongoing chronic problems. That being said, I feel strongly that recovery is very important for everyone, at all levels, and it should be a priority.

The way an athlete recovers varies from one individual to another. Some runners may require extra rest or recovery days. It’s important to communicate with your coach if you feel like you need an extra rest day or a less intense workout.  My coach is great about checking in with me to see how I’m feeling before jumping into the next hard workout. 

Some athletes (like me) have to pull out every trick, short of the kitchen sink, to recover.  As a Masters athlete and someone who has chronic back issues, if I leave these issues unmanaged, they will turn into injuries and further setbacks. One thing I think holds true for everyone is recovery should be consistent. It helps to have a solid plan in place to follow.  If your body isn’t recovered between workouts, then you set yourself up for injuries and disappointing training runs and races.

My recovery is pretty much the same, for the most part, for every type of training run. But, the more intense workouts require a bit more recovery.

First Step: Post-Workout Nutrition

Having adequate nutrition is one major component to recovery.  Like most athletes, I drink a 4:1 carb to protein ratio recovery drink after each workout.  After the more intense workouts, I follow this recovery drink with the Vega recovery accelerator protein shake. I usually drink this about 45 minutes to 1 hour after the initial recovery drink.  Beyond the recovery drink, how you eat during the day to recover from your workout is also important. But that’s a blog post for another day. ☺

Ice Baths Are Still Miserable But Keep Me Going

Ice bath for running health and recovery

Aside from nutrition, I rely on other essential activities for my recovery.  I’m a huge fan of ice and ice baths.  After every hard workout and long run I sit in an ice bath for 15 to 20 minutes.  And for the record, when I say ice, I mean I dump 1-2 HUGE bags of ice in a tub of cold water. My freezer is always packed with bags of ice that I buy from the grocery store.  My husband jokes we need an industrial ice cube making machine. ☺ He’s probably right! 

After doing this for several years, the ice bath never gets easier. There is a lot of squealing as I slowly ease my way into the tub. On days I don’t ice bath, I use ice packs for my shins, knees, or whatever body part needs some attention. Because I am always out and about, I will ice on the go to ensure it gets done. Often, I have ice packs strapped to my legs and knees while driving to the grocery store, picking up my kids from school or while getting dressed.  I have had to get creative with icing to make sure it happens.

Stretching and Massage: It Hurts So Good

Recovery with physical therapy

I’m a big proponent of ongoing physical therapy and massage therapy. I see Brian, one of my physical therapists, one to two times a week to get stretched and work out any kinks. I also make it a point to see him a day or two before a race to ensure I’m loose and flexible. It’s important to have good extension, flexion and rotation bilaterally for cleaner running mechanics and improved running economy. It’s amazing how much better I feel and run when those three components are all in alignment.

I also have a second therapist, Lisa, who uses a specialized therapy technique to keep my back loose. I see her intermittently when I feel like my back or neck is not cooperating with me ☺ or before a race. 

And finally, I see my massage therapist once a week and before any major race. The ongoing PT and massage therapy have been instrumental in keeping me loose and running well, especially with my chronic back issues.

You Don’t Want to Talk to Me When I’m Tired

I think one of the most important parts of a recovery plan is getting enough sleep.  Sleep and rest is when your body is actually recovering and repairing itself from all your hard work.  It took me way too long to realize how important this was to my recovery.  As a busy mom, I would always put it off so I could check one more thing off my to do list.  As a result I found myself tired all the time and unable to push through my workouts like I wanted to.  And I was always cranky!  So, now I actually schedule my naps on my calendar like a business meeting.  I got that idea in an interview I read with Ryan Hall, and it has worked well for me.

Compression and Rolling Get Me Ready to Run

Other important aspects of recovery that I include in my daily routine are foam rolling, stretching, and rolling with “the stick”.  I also wear compression garments for several hours in between my speed work days, as I only have one day in between to recover.  I have found it makes a big difference in how my legs feel when I hit the track that second day.

Sometimes it feels like a struggle to work these little details into my day, but I always find a way. Whether it’s in front of the TV before bed, or at the soccer field while my son is playing a game, you will find me just about anywhere trying to work in those little recovery efforts.

Post-Race Recovery = Good Health

Just as important during training is the recovery after your target race. I take off about seven days after my target race, but I race short distances. For those athletes that run longer distances, more time may be necessary.  I break up that time by doing nothing (no workouts at all!) and with some easy, light running.  I have learned the hard way, through setbacks and injuries, how far I am able to push my body before it’s time for a much needed break, not just physically but also mentally.

Finally, Listen To Your Body

My recovery plan has been a work in progress. It has taken me a good year to figure out what works for me and my body. I figured it out by listening to my body, being consistent with my recovery plan and being pro-active no matter how much of a pain in the ass it is! At the end of the day, when I’m training and racing well, all this effort is worth it!

How do you like to recover? Do you take time off after a race to recharge physically and mentally?

  1. May 7, 2015

    Great blog! And I “second that”…all of it. You’ve given me some great advice, insight, and lots of education on being a runner which have made a huge difference & made me a better runner. I’m still new to the game but find that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been running one week, one year or ten, having a pre & post run regime is essential to staying healthy & injury free. Keep up the good work sister!

    HS

  2. May 7, 2015

    Thank you Holly. I’m glad I have been able to help you become a better runner. 🙂

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