*Courtesy of Run Haven
First off, you should celebrate! Completing any distance race or goal you put your mind to is worth a little victory dance. On the recovery spectrum, though, there are definitely some do’s and don’ts when it comes to caring for your very tired body.
Rest. Unless you’re Superman, you’re going to hurt — everywhere. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a huge component of why you hurt — your body is trying to repair the microscopic damage you’ve done to your muscle fibers. If you’re still doing damage (aka continuing to work out hard while you’re sore), it’s pretty hard to heal. Your primary goal right now is to reduce your symptoms.
Ice. Ideally, an ice bath is best immediately after your race, but if you aren’t able to take the plunge instantly, you still have a window up to 48 hours post race. In this time, you can still grit your teeth and drop those cubes into your tub, or you can apply ice to sore areas for about 5-10 minutes every 2-3 hours to reduce swelling and inflammation.
Roll, stretch, massage. Lightly! It’s never safe to stretch a cold muscle. If you want to stretch it out, do so in a controlled environment, like a yoga class where you warm up your muscles before you stretch. To do so on your own, dynamic or active stretching is perfect before you hold static poses like a hamstring or quadricep stretch. Foam rolling is also a great way to loosen tight spots but may send you through the roof if you’re already in pain. Try a softer foam roller or use your arms to lighten your body’s weight. Same goes for massage. A very light massage can aid in reducing muscle swelling and tension.
Change your activity. Once your symptoms subside, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends to progress slowly into a new program or activity. This will give your muscles time to adapt to new stressors and should help to minimize the severity of your old symptoms. Cross-training activities like swimming or cycling are a great way to to get your cardio fix without hitting the pavement too soon.
There are varying opinions on when it’s OK to come back to running, and this can be a very personal choice as many of us runners are chomping at the bit to get back at it. If you’re not in a rush to get ready for another race, I would recommend taking the time to have a full recovery, no matter the timeline. Your risk of injury increases drastically if you go back to the battlefield with faulty armor. If you hate being sidelined for injuries, take it easy and give yourself a fighting chance. You’ll be better for it and reap the benefits when you lace up your shoes once again.
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