Of all the events that make up the sport of triathlon, none has the ability to put wear on the body quite like the run. When I am creating and adjusting training plans for my athletes, I always have to allow the most recovery for run workouts (particularly high intensity and track sessions) in order to ensure the athlete is properly prepared for their other key sessions later in the training cycle. However, recovery comes in many forms, and following are the instructions I give to my athletes (age group and elite) in order to help them effectively recover from the toughest run sessions.
Prior to your run, lightly roll glutes, hips, quadriceps, calves and adductors to wake up muscles, loosen fascia and get the blood flowing.
Be hydrated and fueled
Going into a tough run dehydrated and/or under-fed is a recipe for disaster. Your workout will probably not be high quality, and your recovery will be even more difficult. There are some diets and training plans that call for low calorie intake prior to training. Discuss this with your coach or nutritionist before implementing.
Get 5-15 minutes (depending on the length and intensity of the run) of walking, easy running, pick-ups or strides, drills and dynamic stretching prior to starting the main set of your run. This ensures that your muscles are warm and have a fresh supply of blood to fuel their contraction, your body is prepared to handle the coming oxygen debt, and your brain and nervous system are ready to activate muscles efficiently and with proper form.
During your workout, get a sip of water every 5-15 minutes (depending on temperature, humidity and your own sweat rate). I like to see athletes taking in 6-10 ounces of water an hour during their run workouts if they are able to absorb it (not get “sloshy” in other words).
If your workout is over one hour long, it is likely you will need to replace carbohydrates during the workout. Simple sugar is the most easily absorbed. In general, we want to stay away from simple sugars, but in this situation it is getting immediately put to use, so it does not pose the same health issues (diabetics or those with glucose/insulin intolerance should still consult with their doctor before consuming sugars). Most athletes will not need more than 100-200 calories of carbohydrates an hour, though again this may vary by individual.
Immediately following your main set, spend 5-15 minutes of movement getting your heart rate below Zone 2, while still maintaining proper form. For 95% of us, the best cool down after a hard run session is a walk because our body is fatigued and maintaining form while lowering heart rate is usually difficult if not impossible. Remember, the point of the cool down is to flush out the muscles, and this can be done just as effectively by walking as by running in most cases.
Foam roll (again)
Immediately after that cool down (while muscles are still warm and pliable), grab your foam roller again and target glutes, hips, quadriceps, calves and adductors with long, continuous motion. Focus on relaxing the muscle against the roller (even when it’s uncomfortable). If you find tight spots, you can rest on them for 10-30 seconds. But remember that muscles get tender post-run so focus on spots that are actually tight, not just painful. You can also address your plantar fascia (on the bottom of the foot) with a tennis or lacrosse ball.
Now is the time for static stretching (holding a stretch for an extended period of time, usually at least 10 seconds). Find a routine that addresses glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, groin, calves and ankles. Remember not to stretch to the point of pain.
Drink water and eat (healthy) food
Dehydration will thicken the blood. This makes it more difficult to get the nutrients and oxygen to muscles that they need to begin the recovery process. So make sure to finish that workout up with 8-10 ounces of water. Within 30 minutes of finishing your workout (when capillaries are still primed to absorb and deliver nutrients to muscles), eat a recovery snack (or meal) of at least 200-300 calories of carbohydrates, and about a fourth as much protein.
Real (unpackaged) food is preferable. But if you can’t bring a sandwich to the track with you, at least have a shake or similar option that meets the above requirements. Also note that 200-300 calories is generalized. Many athletes may need more, so discuss with your coach or nutritionist to come up with the best plan.
This is always every athlete’s favorite part of recovery (not!), but it’s effective. We’re lucky today, because many of us have the option to utilize a Cryosauna. It is actually more effective than an ice bath, and only takes a tenth of the time. However, if you’re still picking up your bags of ice at the gas station post-run, remember you will generally need at least 20-30 lbs. of ice to get the water in a full-size tub to an effective temperature. Once in, stay for 10-20 minutes – no more, no less. Then enjoy the ensuing hot bath or shower.
Put on your compression
Wearing recovery compression such as full socks or even tights will continue to speed the recovery process throughout the day or night by increasing blood flow and providing support to tired muscles.
Go to sleep
Yes, 8 hours makes a difference. Professional athletes essentially train, eat and sleep. There is a reason for this.
If it’s in the budget, a 1 hour sports massage every other week to release sticky fascia and work out knots and trigger points will feel great after. It will also help to ensure you are able to maintain a proper gait that isn’t hindered by excessive tightness. A good sports chiropractor who is ART certified can have the same effect, with the added bonus of adjustments to help keep the body in alignment, allowing for more efficient movement.
Listen to your body
If you’re not recovered, don’t dive into the next speed/high intensity session unless you’ve already discussed it with your coach. Be on the lookout for clues such as excessive fatigue, muscle soreness or tightness. Also, hunger (or lack of hunger), high resting heart rate, irritability, and mild illness. It can be easy to dig a hole that’s difficult to get out of if we ignore the warning signs.
The recovery process will be different for every athlete. Some simply recover more easily than others, though for a vast array of reasons. The key is to find what works for your body and lifestyle. Then practice it routinely in order to create a consistent foundation for your training and racing.
Many triathletes have learned that the cross-training components of swimming, cycling and strength training mean that they are able to achieve great run fitness.
Without as much time on the road or track as those who only run. This enables them to more quickly recover from tough runs. That’s because they are not constantly putting such high load on themselves through the same high-impact movement patterns.
Whatever your recovery recipe is, keep experimenting until you find it so that you can enjoy those long runs and track sessions for many years to come.