In my last post on running, a friend of mine suggested I write a post on how to recover from runs. She's just getting up to two-mile runs and said she has a hard time recovering after a run to have energy for the rest of the day.
First I'll say that I am certainly not an expert on the subject of fitness, and you should consult a qualified physician if you are experiencing any symptoms related to illness, dehydration, unusual muscle soreness, etc.
That being said, I can offer 6 suggestions for easier recovery based on what I've experienced.
It might suprise you to know that my most difficult runs have not been my 18- or 20-mile marathon training runs. I've had more difficult 4- or 6-mile runs that have caused me to lie on the couch all day while fighting the urge to throw up.
Every single time the reason is the same: I pushed myself too hard.
It's one thing to go out for a tough weekly tempo run or give it your all in that 10k race or when training for a PR (personal record); but when you're a regular person just going out for a jog (ie. not a competitive elite athlete), there's no reason to make yourself sick by pushing too hard.
In any run where I felt tired to the point of nausea, it was because I ran too fast for too long and made myself sick. I was probably also a little dehydrated (see point #2).
As you continue exercising and get to know your body, you will be able to know more when you're pushing too hard and when you need to back off a little bit. Don't be too proud to take walk breaks or cut your run short if you aren't feeling 100%.
This is an obvious one, but it's also something that's easy to forget about. When you're consistently running 2+ days/week, make sure you're drinking water all day, all week long.
When you keep yourself hydrated, you won't feel as bad during and after your runs because you'll have proper fluids. This is just a good health practice anyway, but when you're exercising, proper water intake is essential to an easier recovery. This is especially important as we get into the summer months! Ain't nobody got time for a hospital visit.
Take water with you on a long run and stop to drink every mile or half mile to keep fluids in as you sweat. <-- This is something I'm bad at. I rarely stop to drink water during a training run. Not smart.
One note to keep in mind: There is such a thing as having TOO much water, which results in a condition called hyponatremia. This is where you aren't getting enough sodium in your body. To combat this, make sure you are also occasionally drinking some kind of sports drink that contains electrolytes (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.). Here's a great blog post with more tips for running in the heat.
(You're welcome for the most awkward picture ever of my brother trying to show my dad how to do a stretch.)
One of the biggest changes between when I first started running and now is the time I take to cool down and stretch. I know there are people who don't stretch after a run and do just fine, but I personally notice a difference when I take at least 5-10 minutes to stretch after a run.
The first thing I do when I get back from a run is grab my water bottle, half a Cliff Bar, and start stretching. I normally stretch for no more than 15 minutes, and I also continue to take bites of my protein bar while sipping water. Getting in a nice stretch is a reward for my hard work.
At first, you're probably going to feel winded, and you're still going to be hot and sweaty. But as you continue to exercise consistently, your body will learn to more quickly cool itself down, which will lower your heartrate and help you recover faster. It's a golden light at the end of the sweaty running tunnel, if you will.
There are plenty of great stretches, and I've even found some yogo moves that are great for runners. I've added a few links below for you to check out.
A stretch for your lower back and hips
13 Yoga Poses for Runners
Yoga Cool Down Sequence
You can also follow my Fitness board on Pinterest for great articles and such.
They say you're supposed to eat protein within 30 minutes of a workout. I don't know about you, but I usually don't feel like digging into a chicken salad sandwich right after a hot run. A protein bar, or even half one, is my preference for some easy carbs and protein that tastes good while not filling you up.
I'm sure there are differing opinions for or against what you should or shouldn't eat after a run or workout, but I'm just telling you what I do and what works for me.
FACT: There is no good way to take a flattering picture of your legs while wearing calf sleeves.
If you've ever been to a race, you've probably seen runners wearing colorful socks that go up to their knees like you see me wearing. In most cases, these are compression socks, which many runners wear to reduce soreness and inflammation in the leg muscles, specifically the calf.
I bought a pair of purple calf sleeves (shown) about 6 months ago when I found a half-off sale on this site. (Those babies can get expensive!) I wore them on a three-mile run and ended up stopping to take them off after just over a mile. They were awful. I decided to try again, and the second time I made it almost 2 miles before I took them off.
For me, they made my legs feel tight, and it was hard to run. I haven't worn them on a run since.
However, I'm actually the only person I know who hates them. All of the runners whose running blogs I read wear them, my dad wore them for the marathon, and my friend Natalie wore her calf sleeves during an 8k and said they made a huge difference, in a good way.
So I guess it's just me. But I did discover that although I hate wearing them during a run, I absolutely love putting them on after a run. It's hard to describe the feeling, but it's kind of like your calves are being held tightly, almost being massaged. It feels great, and I end up wearing them most of the day, even under my jeans! Jordan likes to make fun of me.
The compression aspect, like I said, is intended to reduce soreness and inflammation of muscles, so if your legs feel sore, you might try putting on some calf sleeves for at least an hour or two after a run and see if that helps.
(I've also heard amazing things about foam rolling, although I've never tried it myself. Mostly because I'm too lazy to actually go out and buy a foam roller.)
After you stretch and shower, try to avoid sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time. I know this can't be completely avoided if you're, say, going to work to sit in an office all day; but as best you can, realize that moving is going to facilitate a faster recovery.
That doesn't mean you can't sit down or that after a particularly tough run you can't lie on the couch and take an afternoon siesta. But for me, I've actually found that when I continue to move around every so often instead of immediately falling to the ground for the next couple of hours, I am less sore and able to act like a normal human being instead of a dying robot for the rest of the day.
Again, like I mentioned in point #1, the ultimate goal for a non-elite runner is (or should be) to get fit and have fun. And you're not going to have fun if you dread every single run because of how terrible you're going to feel at the end of it. If you keep moving and keep running, eventually your body will adapt and you'll be able to recover faster and hopefully have more fun.
I hope that helped! Feel free to offer your own opinion of how you like to cool down after a run in the comments or call me out on something I missed!
(*Nerdy editorial side note: Post Run? Post-run? Postrun? You have no idea how long I debated this. A Google search comes up with Post-Run everywhere, but my trusty Merriam-Webster Dictionary shows Postrun as one word, so I'm going with it. Who can understand hyphen rules anyway? Not me. The editor. Ahem.)