What separates professional runners from the rest of the pack? In addition to running, drills, and strength training each day, elite runners will often spend 1-4 hours per day on recovery!
Long runs are essential to our training because they enable our body to adapt to running longer distances more safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, more miles also increases our risk of injury, which can result in unplanned—and unwelcome—time off.
According to Runner’s World, “one simple way to offset the risks inherent to long bouts of running is cold-water immersion, known to many runners as the ice bath.”
Cryotherapy (“cold therapy”) constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles. You could use individual ice packs, but cold-water immersion produces a greater and longer lasting change in deep tissues and is more a more efficient means of cooling large groups of muscles simultaneously.
After our long runs, we want to reward ourselves with a hot shower and a hot meal, so the thought of sitting in a tub full of ice water has us running the other way screaming. But if you can get passed the horrific thought of submerging yourself in freezing water and just jump on in, your muscles, ligaments, and joints will thank you later.
How exactly do we go about this cold therapy thing? Well there are a few things you should do first.
- Immediately after our long run (within 10-15 minutes), we should be eating and hydrating. Our post run fuel could be something like chocolate milk, yogurt and granola, banana and peanut butter bagel with orange juice. You want to aim for a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Some athletes use glucose tablets (made for diabetics) directly after running. A pure glucose tablet stimulates the insulin response in the body and ignites the recovery process and is quick and dirty trick if you’re crunched for time or have a sensitive stomach and don’t feel like eating right after a tough workout.
- Next up is stretching and rolling. Stretching should last 10-15 minutes, focusing on the major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips) as well as anything that is nagging or felt sore on the run. Our 7 Key Stretches for Runners routine is the perfect way to loosed up all those important muscle groups. If you have a foam roller, next up is rolling your legs to to alleviate any knots and tightness.
- Now it’s time to hit the ice bath. Fill your bath tub with cold water and add 2-3 bags of crushed ice. The ice should completely melt, but it should take about 3-5 minutes for a normal size ice cube to do so. The water should cover you nearly to your waist. Before getting in, put on a jacket or long sleeves and make myself a cup of hot tea, and grab some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 minutes pass quickly. The more you ice bath, the more comfortable this process becomes. After letting all the water drain from the tub, go ahead and take your shower. Your legs will feel cold for a few hours, but your muscles will thank you later.
- After the ice bath, you’ll want to ensure that you get a well-balanced meal in your system. So far, you’ve had some chocolate milk, Gatorade, and some light snacks. To completely refuel, your muscles need something more substantial. If you run in the morning, this could be breakfast – eggs with veggies and whole wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit and toast, or pancakes are a decent choice if you top with fruit and yogurt. Lunch or dinner could be salad with a sandwich, pasta, or leftovers from the night before. You just want to consume a high quality meal with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This will provide your body with the final nutrients it needs to top off the recovery process.
- Take a nap or get a massage – what a luxury! After your meal, put your feet up, take a nap, and if you’re really snazzy, follow it up with a massage. This is where things can get “ridiculous”, as massages and naps are a fantasy and extreme luxury, but in the perfect world, this is the “optimal” way to recover and a nice treat too.
- About an hour or so before you fall into bed that evening, you should take a warm/hot bath in Epsom salts. Combine 4 cups Epsom salt with 1 cup baking soda and relax in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. After the bath, dry off and roll out your muscles again and get in another good 10 minute stretching session. Not only with this help remove excess toxins from the muscles, the stretching before bed will ensure that you wake up feeling ready to go for your next run. Furthermore, the relaxing bath and the Epsom salts will help you sleep.
Here’s a quicker list to summarize and one you can screen shot or right down for future recall:
- Hydrate as soon after your run as possible with Gatorade or electrolyte drink
- Eat a small meal that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
- Stretch major muscle groups and anything that is sore or tight. Roll out any nagging injuries or problem areas.
- Take an ice bath
- Eat a decent sized, healthy meal
- Nap, put your feet up, or get a massage
- Take an Epsom salt bath
- Roll out on the stick and stretch well
- Get plenty of sleep
This routine is quite extensive and you won’t always have the time to get it all in. You should make time for at least 1-3, followed up by 5 & 7-9. On those rare occasions when you can fit it all in you will feel like royalty and be ready to go for next hard workout.
The day after your long run it’s time for active recovery; short easy run, yoga, stretching, swim, bike, long walk. You have lots of options, just make sure you’re not sitting around being ideal and causing your muscles to stiffen up.
Here’s what’s on tap for the weekend. Don’t forget your post long run wall sit and plank!
Day 10 exercises: Long Run + :60 Wall Sit & :60 Plank + 7 Key Stretches for Runners
Day 11 exercises: Yoga for Runners – options below
Bonus: Active weekend selfies – We want to see you being active so you’re only weekend bonus is to capture yourself and your friends doing what you love! Share it with the Crew and tag your post with #ActiveWeekend. Who knows who you might inspire!
With lots to do and with family time and other fun stuff also on the list, it’s time to get moving and get it all done! That list of chores and other boring stuff can wait till Monday….Let’s have an active weekend Crew!