It took a solid day and change, but I was able to walk normally in my Crocs Prepair sandals from the baggage claim at the airport to the spot where my car was parked in the garage. I don’t remember being quite as beaten down after a half-marathon, but it had been a solid 16 months between my last half marathon on Pensacola Beach and this one in Ottawa. It was great to “flip the switch” and have a much more satisfying day on the roads; sixteen months of frustration and pain can really drive a guy to desperation and doubt. Had I run faster for the distance? Absolutely; this performance was nearly a minute per kilometer slower than my best race, and thirty seconds per kilometer slower than my last half marathon when I was in triathlon training. Add age to the possible causes and effects and I cannot help but smile at what was really a good day.
But I want to turn the clock back a day, where I was hobbling like a person born about two decades, maybe three, before the date posted on my driver’s license. The “walking on hot coals” gait which brought my wife and my sister-in-law so much amusement could have been mitigated some eight hours earlier by following many of the commonly-held rules of thumb for recovery from race efforts and longer training runs.
Even if you’re running shorter races which last less than an hour, you can still benefit from many of the post-race recovery guidelines:
Cool-down – take the time to walk or jog easily once you’ve crossed the finish line. Back in the days when I ran 5,000 meter road races throughout the spring and fall seasons, my teammates and I would often go back out on the course and jog another loop. If you can jog another lap of the course, be careful not to interfere with other participants who are still racing – it often frustrated them to see half a dozen runners coming up from behind, and usually didn’t make us too many friends.
I finished about 30 minutes before the time I suspected Suzanne would arrive at the finish chute. In hindsight, it was probably enough time to walk the mile and a half back to the hotel, get a quick wash, and return to meet her. I’ve learned my lesson from running the Classic. When given the choice to wander half-blindly through tens of thousands of people asking “where’s my wife?” or to stay put at a place she has to eventually pass, I’ll choose to suck down a few cups of sports drink and wait. Which brings me to the second important point…
Nutrition and hydration – researchers have learned that in the first 20 minutes following a bout of exercise, your muscles are most willing to take in nutrition. If you’re the type of person who has tried without success in the past to take in fruit, breads, cookies or solid food (probably because the blood which should flow to the stomach is still being pumped near the skin to lower your core temperature), see if liquid nutrition helps. I tried a milkshake-like post-exercise supplement in Ottawa, and I’ve seen beverages of the same kind at my local gym and in many drug and grocery stores. If you don’t like the “sticker-shock” associated with sports nutrition products, 2-percent or nonfat chocolate milk is a very good substitute.
Regardless of the drink – water, carbohydrate drink or specialty product – take in 150 percent of what fluid weight you lost during the run. If you’ve been training for a long period of time, or for a long-distance race, you probably know more or less how much fluid you lose during an hour of running. Do the math and drink up. Save the beer for later in the day. This race was one of the few events where beer was not served at the post-race. For those who run races outside of the southern US, this can either be a shock or a pleasant surprise. For us, this was a non-issue; Canadian beer is good but it certainly is not inexpensive.
Throughout the day, and even into the following day, make certain to eat good, wholesome foods and drink plenty of fluids. We had two fantastic meals at a couple of downtown pubs (watching the human condition; guessing which patron had run and which had not), and didn’t feel guilty about polishing off a bag of pretzels and a bag of (fruit and nut) trail mix between lunch and dinner.
When it comes to races which last longer than an hour, it’s wise to approach recovery with the same level of care and attention as you would treat what Timothy Noakes, MD, author of Lore of Running, would call a grade 1 injury, where the pain or uncomfortable feelings do not arrive until a period of time following the cool down. In addition to the first two points, it’s also good to…
Rest – take a day off from running, perhaps even from cross-training (if this race is part of a lead-up to a target event) for every hour you’ve raced. After this, add a day of easy running for every mile in the race.
Some people are a fan of massage therapy, which research has shown to hinder removal of lactic acid from muscle tissues, but every once in a while it doesn’t hurt to have a strange (and caring) person put their hands on you. Just be certain to schedule a gentle massage after you’ve taken your days off, not before. Another questionable therapy which many runners swear by is the (traditional) immersion in a bathtub full of icy water, or a cool swimming pool, or time in a cool shower, or application of cool packs to joint areas which feel uncomfortable. Sure, they might not be as beneficial as we think they are, but some days (especially the hot ones) they can feel wonderful.
Compression – compression sleeves, socks and tights have been broadly accepted by the running and multisport world, both during and after races. While there appears to be little benefit during the exercise, medical research has found compression garments can assist in muscle recovery. I have four pairs of compression socks and I’m not afraid to use them – at least when I can hide them underneath a pair of long pants. But what can you do during the summer months to not look like a complete “athletogeek?” It suddenly came to me as I was getting ready for work this morning: Invest in a pair of wool hiking socks…the same kind that are used to make sock monkey dolls…and a pair of comfortable trail running shoes or hiking boots. Pull the wool socks over the compression sleeves, put on a pair of khaki walking shorts and voila! Hidden in plain sight!
Elevation – I didn’t mention when talking about rest the benefits of napping. To me and my wife, naps – and extra sleep, for that matter – are the greatest undervalued guilty pleasure. Any extra time after the race where you can put your legs up is time well spent. If you’re lucky on the flight home you might be able to get an empty row (as I did) or an exit row seat (which tends to have a little more legroom). Sure, you’re going to look a little silly sitting sideways in the booth at the local Denny’s, but it’s not the waitress who’s done a half marathon, 16 miles, or a marathon. It’s all about you right now.
The race preparation not only includes what you’re going to do in the days prior to the race, but also in the hours and days afterward. Smart post-race recovery will get you back on the trails and roads sooner.