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April 13, 2014

Finish Your Run After You Finish Your Run

Written by Dena Evans
The pace run or track workout has concluded and the first tide of satisfaction washes over.  Although the “heavy lifting” of the workout may be in the rear view mirror, some of the most important work in your training schedule still may lie ahead.  We often focus on the pace runs and long runs, but the recovery between those hard days is what helps determine how well your body will adapt and be ready for the next challenge.  Take your recovery seriously.

Recovery doesn’t begin when you finally tuck into bed the night following your workout.  Recovery begins as you unwind your body from the hard work just accomplished minutes before.  Busy schedules may tempt us to skip a cool down jog, but it’s important to reserve some time for this last piece of your workout.  Even a couple easy laps after your last hard interval or pace run can help unwind your body and your mind.

The cool down provides an often crucial transition period for your body and mind as it goes from high intensity requirements to preparedness for the next activity of your day.  The cool down does not have a huge amount of science proving its necessity, but it’s important that you don’t stop completely and immediately after long, hard exercise,or take your heart rate from extremely high to extremely low in moments (this is why many marathons and half marathons automatically build in lengthy post-finish straightaways to walk and collect fuel).  Let your body temperature drop gradually instead of getting straight into the car sopping wet with sweat.  Giving yourself a moment to jog, roll, and stretch before getting into that same car can prepare your tired muscles for the commute and prevent the onset of post-workout tightness.  A week later, that post-workout tightness can resurface as IT band or low back tightness, from which it may be just a stone’s throw to an injury as workout loads increase.

Stretching has been discussed in the running media a great deal lately, with the once familiar pre and post-run routines now discarded as outdated and not a necessary precursor to injury prevention or better performance.  While we encourage dynamic exercise as a part of our Active Warm-up, we also encourage athletes to be knowledgeable about post-run foam (or other tool) rolling and stretching (even if you only have those precious few minutes). Even if you don’t practice both or each every single day, it is wise to keep those tools in your arsenal.  They help the body transition from the tension of the hard workout to post-run life. 

Another key aspect of recovery is rehydration and refueling.  If running longer than an hour, consuming about 1/3 of your calories burned per hour through sports drink or food can help ensure success.  Making sure to get at least that much food down the hatch in the first 15-30 minutes after working out (even if you don’t feel hungry), can make a significant difference in how quickly your body will begin to prepare itself for the next hard task.  Waiting 2 hours and then eating a huge meal or a pitcher of beer is an absolute no-no! This will delay your recovery and adaptation for your next workout.  Bring a snack and a low sugar sports drink to your workout and consume them when you are done.  You’ll take the edge off the hunger (and avoid a need for a ridiculously huge meal later).  You will feel stronger for the rest of the day and more importantly for your running, eliminate needless time where you body is hunting around for fuel sources in vain.

When you do get to hit the hay, an evening workout may leave you wide awake.  While this may be unavoidable, morning or midday runners should feel nice and tired when bedtime comes.  Resist the temptation to let a post-hard workout or race day act as a reward to not worry about sleep.  In fact, those nights are most crucial. This is your body’s time to repair and prepare for the running ahead. Do your level best to get good sleep the night after a hard day and give yourself the best chance possible for future success and injury free running.

Human nature, the demands of every day life, and other unpredictable aspects of modern living may intervene and prevent you from always executing a perfect recovery routine.  Do your best, try to chalk up small wins each day, and integrate good habits as much as you can.  Your body will respond with more good days, and hopefully your future successes will encourage you to continue treating yourself well post-run.

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