Post-Race Recovery

From the WebMD Archives

By Amber Greviskes

I'm a seven-time marathon runner, and there have been several mornings when I’ve woken up the day after a race or long run feeling so sore that I dreaded leaving my apartment, walking to my subway stop and maneuvering up and down the stairs.

To combat the pain, I’ve tried it all -- including intense training regimens, strength and flexibility work, nutrition makeovers and even resting for a few days (which drove me crazy!). No go.

Finally, I asked experts for tips on successful post-race recovery. Here are three strategies they recommended:

Good: An Ice Bath

Immediately after a marathon or long run, fill up a bathtub with lukewarm water until the water covers the tops of your thighs. Keeping your upper body dry, gently empty two bags of ice into the tub and spread the ice evenly under the water. Stay in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes. “It’s a great time to enjoy a hot cocoa or read a book,” says NYC running coach Alfatah Kader, an ultra-marathon runner. “This would also be a good time to have a recovery protein shake that’s easy on your stomach.” If at any time you start to shiver, get out of the tub immediately and dry off.

Better: Stretch And Massage

When the muscles are warmed up, stretching or using a foam roller can help ease muscle soreness -- but it's best to wait at least two hours after your run before you start loosening up. A Swedish (but not deep tissue) massage can also be a great way to rehab the next day. Studies suggest that massage can help reduce swelling and aid in muscle recovery.

Best: An Easy Cross-Training Workout

There are several different post-race exercises that can help your muscles unwind, but among the best is swimming, says Janna Lowell, a Los Angeles-based fitness professional and the author of Noodles for Dumbbells: Water Exercise, Weight Management & More. “The special properties of water -- such as resistance, buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure -- create a unique opportunity to recover from distress caused to joints by repetitive motion and gravity,” Lowell says. “Our range of motion is improved and swelling in joints is reduced.”

Walking, riding a stationary bike or taking an easy bike ride are also options. "Anything you do to get out, move your legs and break a sweat will get you on the road to recovery," says distance-runner coach Carl Ewald, executive director of the ODDyssey half marathon in Philadelphia.

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