How to Optimize Half Marathon Recovery
You’ve done it! After weeks and months of training, that coveted half marathon medal is finally yours. You put in the work, ran your heart out, and reaped the benefits. And, if the weather gods played along and all went according to plan, you might even be boasting a shiny new PB.
But what now? Common sense says that diving straight into a new training cycle might not be the wisest thing to do. And besides, your aching muscles are practically begging for a little R&R, right? So just exactly how much R&R is enough? And how can you optimize your half marathon recovery strategy to leave you feeling fresh, rested and ready for more?
Here’s everything you need to know to take half marathon recovery to the next level.
Step 1 of a Good Recovery Plan Is Not What You Think
Most runners tend to think that recovery starts the moment you cross the finish line and plop down on the ground. Not true. A good recovery strategy actually starts with a solid training plan and clever, consistent race preparation. Gradually and properly preparing your body for the rigors of half marathon running is the first step to ensuring that your body takes less of a beating on race day.
So do yourself a favor and follow a good training plan in the 12 to 16 weeks leading up to your goal half marathon. Your body will thank you come race day!
Step 2: The Kick-Start
Once you’ve crossed the finish line and that medal is around your neck, there are a number of things you can do in order to kick-start recovery almost immediately. Most runners are well aware of these easy-to-follow post-race recovery tips and tricks:
- Don’t plop down! Inviting as it may seem, plopping down on the grass immediately post-race will not be doing you any favors. Instead, take a gentle stroll in order to give your legs a chance to properly cool down and prevent cramping.
- Hydrate. We all know by now that drinking too much fluids while running and racing isn’t a good thing. But if you do feel thirsty after crossing the finish line, hydrate with something healthy that can also replenish electrolytes, like coconut water or pure fruit juice.
- Ingest some carbs. It is vital to replenish your glycogen stores as soon as possible post-race. But there’s no need to go overboard. That re-hydrating post-race fruit juice should be plenty.
- Stretch. Give all your major leg muscles a good, static stretch after cooling down. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow.
- Eat something within an hour of your finish time. A combination of carbs, protein and a little healthy fats is ideal. And if the idea of eating a full meal after running a race is less than appealing, gulp down a killer recovery smoothie.
Step 3: Passive Recovery
Once you’ve hauled your (fed and hydrated) tired bones home, the process of passive recovery can begin. For the half marathon distance, it’s generally recommended that you take anything from one to three days completely off after your race. This means that you do absolutely nothing training-wise during this time – not even gentle cross training. And while morphing into a couch potato certainly isn’t necessary, the effort associated with general daily activities is more than enough for your body to handle during this phase.
Many committed runners fear passive recovery and subconsciously feel that taking a few days off will somehow nullify all the hard work they’ve put in during training. Not true. Proper rest and recovery, especially post-race, is a vital part of any athlete’s training regimen. It allows the body to heal and recuperate, thereby emerging stronger and fitter than before. So give your body the break it deserves – you’re sure to reap the benefits.
Step 4: Active Recovery
After taking a complete break for up to three days, you can slowly start returning to exercise. Note, however, that you should not pick up where you left off before your half marathon. And you do not have to limit your workouts to running, either. This is the perfect time to experiment with cross-training options like Pilates or (gentle) swimming. The aim of active recovery is to boost circulation in order to help the body get rid of built-up waste products, and to hasten healing through speeding up the delivery of nutrients to the muscle cells. And this is done through gentle activity at a low to moderate intensity.
Aim for no more than one hour of exercise per day during this phase at 60 – 75% of your maximum heart rate. The active recovery phase should last for seven to 10 days, taking passive and active recovery to a combined total of eight to 13 days.
Keep in mind, though, that this is a general guideline only. Each person is unique and some may need an extra day or three to fully recover. The key is to listen to your body and take the appropriate action. If, after ten days of active recovery, your resting heart rate is still elevated, take an extra day or two off. And if your body keeps on feeling sluggish and your breathing labored during running, back off and rest some more.
When your resting heart rate and breathing (while running) has returned to normal, it should be safe to gradually start picking up the pace and distance in your training again. Keep in mind, though, that some experts advise against running more than two or three half marathons at maximum effort per year. So choose your goal races wisely, give them all you’ve got and then give your body the break it deserves!
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- How much recovery is needed after a half marathon?, Online publication, Sep 11, 2017 ,
- Returning to training after a big race, http://running.competitor.com/2014/08/training/returning-to-training-after-a-big-race_33292, Aug 20, 2014 ,