You've crossed the finish line, collected your medal and some goodies from the post-race refreshment tent, and now it's time to head home (or perhaps go out with some friends).
However, before you get too far, there are a few things to keep in mind before you carry on with your day. While it is tempting to hop in the car and forget about taking care of your body post-race, there's a few things I recommend doing.
1. You want to refuel. At most race events (even smaller, local races), there is almost always a post-race tent with food. Be sure to grab a banana or one of the granola bars they give out, as it is important to replenish your body after a hard workout. Some races offer chocolate milk, which has a good ratio of protein and carbohydrates to refuel with post-run, so keep your eyes out for that if you are a chocolate milk fan. There are usually a few options to choose from, such as various fruits, cookies, granola bars, protein drinks. etc. It may be tempting to load up on cookies, but beware of the dreaded sugar crash! Your post-race snack should be enough to tide you over until you can have a proper meal. One of my favourite race day traditions is going out for breakfast with Ryan once the race is over. I will choose something like a veggie omelet with whole wheat toast and fruit to refuel my body and get a healthy dose of nutrients in. This kick-starts the process of muscle repairing.
2. You will want to rehydrate. Always, always drink water. If your race offers an electrolyte drink such as Nuun, it wouldn't hurt to have that either. As you run, you sweat out electrolytes and sodium, and it is important to replenish your body as they are vital components to your health. I prefer Nuun over Gatorade as it contains less sugar and doesn't spike my blood sugar, but even watering down some Gatorade wouldn't be terrible, just so long as you rehydrate your body. No, this doesn't mean rehydrating with beer, either! However, that being said, a celebratory drink once you have eaten a decent meal is allowed, if you are into that! Remember, your pee should be a light shade of yellow, not dark!
3. Third, and one that I tend to skip out on is stretching. The atmosphere is buzzing on race day, and it is SO easy to just go through the food tent line up and continue walking along without paying any attention to your muscles. Stretching your major muscle groups - such as all muscles in the legs, and stretch out your upper body a bit as well as the shoulders can often become tight from running - will make the recovery process (and sitting on the toilet the next day) a much more pleasant process.
4. If you have access to a foam roller, DO IT! Your body will thank you. Be sure to roll out your hamstrings, quads, IT bands, and glutes, as the muscles of the legs can become very tight if you neglect stretching and foam rolling them after a run.
5. If your muscles are extra sore, be sure to ice them. When I was in the midst of training for back to back races, I would often ice my knees just in case. I would also ice my quads, and keep an ice pack under my leg to ice my hamstring. You can also sit in an ice bath if you are feeling extra brave - be sure to wear some layers on top and some shorts on the bottom - yes, it hurts as much as you'd think, but your legs will thank you!
6. Take some extra rest days. Usually after a half marathon I will take at least two days off of running, and ease my way back into my running routine. While I still go to the gym, I keep cardio at a minimum and only do easy cycling or walking on the treadmill if my muscles are still feeling a bit tender. I avoid heavy training on my legs for a few days post half marathon, but everyone is different so find a system that works best for you. Trial and error!
7. For the days following a hard run or race, consider taking an Epsom salt bath to further ease your achy muscles. Throw on some music and a face mask, pour yourself a cuppa tea, and relax! This can do wonders, especially if you are prone to sore feet or calves.
8. Take an easy yoga class. To further release any tension, look for a yoga class in your area that focuses on legs. In my city we have a class called "happy hips and hammies" which is geared towards athletes. I took this class once after cardio and leg day at the gym, and holy crap, did I ever need it! Yoga is great at not only releasing tension in your muscles, but tension in your mind as well to create harmony within your body.
9. Get a massage. Oh, yes. This is probably the best tip of them all, because it can be so relaxing and well needed, especially after a long training cycle! Whether you prefer a relaxation massage or registered massage therapy, massage is a great way to nurture your body and promote recovery.
10. CELEBRATE! Celebrate your accomplishments with your friends and family. Celebrate your race with your dog, your cat, your fish, whatever. Enjoy a glass of wine, reflect on your race, and get energized with a plan for the next one. It is important in your journey to keep the motivation flowing (motivation - not wine ; ), so be grateful for your race day and for what your body can achieve. This puts your mind in a positive place before the craziness of training starts again!
What are your post-race recovery tips?