When you're training for a marathon or another long-distance race, the weekly long run can really take a lot out of you. The faster you recover from this run, the faster you can be back on the road training at your best. Long run recovery is highly influenced by the things you do in the minutes and hours following your long run. Here are four steps you can take after your long run to reduce your recovery time.
Eat a protein-rich snack.
When professional runner Kara Goucher was feeling fatigued after her long runs, her coach, Alberto Salazar, recommended a protein-rich recovery snack after her workouts. Once she added a post-run, protein-rich snack to her routine, she stopped feeling so trashed after her long runs. Even if you're not an elite runner like Kara, you can benefit from consuming a snack or meal that's rich in protein within about 30 minutes of finishing your long run. Protein repairs the muscle damage you suffer during the long run, and eating it quickly after your run helps reduce the amount of cortisol your body releases, which helps prevent inflammation.
In addition to protein, you want to make sure you consume plenty of carbohydrates after your run. Some good protein and carbohydrate-rich snacks to try include protein shakes (made with whey protein, milk, and maybe a banana), a banana and peanut butter with some whey protein powder sprinkled on top, or a protein bar. For more protein sources, check out companies like ARD Nutrition.
Take an ice bath.
The idea of climbing into an ice-cold tub of water after your run may not sound appealing, but it will make you so much less sore the next day. Soaking in a tub of cold water helps decrease inflammation in your legs and may also stimulate the muscles to begin repairing themselves more quickly.
The term "ice bath" is a bit of a misnomer, since you don't necessarily need ice to make this kind of bath. You want the water to be between 54 and 60 degrees F. If your water comes out of the tap at that temperature, all you need to do is fill your tub with cold water from the tap, climb in, and sit still for 6 to 8 minutes. Try listening to music or reading a book during your ice bath to keep your mind off the cold.
After you've run 12, 15, or 20 miles, it can be tempting to just get home and crash on the couch for the rest of the day. But this is probably the last day you should embark on a new Netflix binge-watching session. Sitting still will only make your muscles tighten up and feel more stiff, slowing down your recovery. Plan on staying up and active for the rest of the day after your long run. This will keep the blood flowing to your legs, which will help clear out toxic byproducts like lactic acid faster. It will also keep your muscles loose and supple. Run your errands, do some light cleaning, or plan an easy walk around the block.
As a runner, you've probably heard the advice to stretch more times that you can count. However, so many runners still neglect to follow this advice. It's more important after your long run than after shorter training runs, since the repetitive motion of running for hours on end can really tighten up your leg muscles. Stretch before your ice bath -- perhaps while you're sipping your protein shake or eating that post-run protein bar.
Stretch your calves by standing on the edge of the stairs and pushing weight down into your heels. Then, sit down and do some sit-and-reach stretches where you put your legs in a "V" and bend at the waist to reach between your feet. These two stretches should do a pretty thorough job, and you can look for complete stretching guides in running magazines and on YouTube if you need more inspiration.
By eating protein after your long run, taking an ice bath, staying active, and fitting in some stretching, you'll cut down your recovery time and feel more like yourself again sooner.