So, you’ve just finished your first 5K, 10K or even a half marathon even though you didn’t think you’d make it till the end. Congratulations! After months of training, watching your diet and enduring an intense strength-building regime, it’s now time for your body to heal and replenish what’s been lost during the race. Believe it or not, post-run recovery is as important as training; it will ultimately ensure that you’re back on your feet faster than otherwise, ready to take up even more challenging runs in the future. Here are some things to keep in mind after crossing the finish line:

As much as you would like to plop yourself on the grass, follow the cool down strategies you’ve used in your training and walk around or do some very light stretching for about 10 minutes – it’ll bring down your heart rate and blood flow to normal. Remember to rehydrate immediately after the race and keep sipping liquids through the day, especially if your race was set in the middle of summer. Don’t hesitate to add some vitamins and electrolytes to make up for what’s lost. Want to know which stretches and exercises should follow your run? Check out the training videos in the FirstRun app.

Stretches after a run (Image: Mark Evans | CC BY ND 2.0)
Stretches after a run (Image: Mark Evans | CC BY ND 2.0)

Eat up
We’ve already looked at what to eat and what to avoid before a marathon, but what about after it? Some people get understandably ravenous after a race while others don’t feel hungry till a couple of hours. Ideally you should be putting something your fuel tank within an hour of the race, preferably a good combination of proteins, carbs and fat to aid in muscle recovery. If you can’t stomach the thought of food right away, opt for a light smoothie, chocolate milk or peanut butter crackers to keep you going. Dry fruits, yoghurts, light sandwiches and berries also make for a good post-run snack.

Treat yourself
Finishing a race is a perfectly good reason to go for a gentle massage to get rid of the toxins from your system. Avoid something too intense that may damage your already-fatigued leg muscles; instead, ask your therapist to concentrate on the hamstrings, ankles, calves and back in slow repetitive motions. Some athletes also prefer an ice bath immediately after a race to speed up their recovery, but if that’s not quite your thing, ice-packs are also beneficial for providing relief to sore muscles.

Rest and recover
Rest and active recovery are both important post-race rituals, and the balance between the two should be determined based on your overall and current fitness levels. Resist the urge to get back to intense training immediately after the marathon; your muscles need that time to get back into running shape. Don’t go back to being a couch potato, though; switch to low-impact workouts like swimming, cycling, walking or yoga for a week to 10 days or until you’re ready to get back to training.

Run easy
When you do get back to running, remember to keep the runs short and easy in the beginning. Most injuries occur when you’ve taken on too much before your muscles are ready for it. A lot of people prefer reverse tapering where they start with 30-40 minute runs on familiar ground before increasing the pace and distance after a couple of weeks. Your body knows best and any lingering or sudden aches and pains are signs that all is not rosy. In such cases, take a few more days off running and stick to the yoga mat or pool till recovery is complete.

Main Image: Rennett Stowe

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