Last month I penned some pre-race preparation strategies for you to consider when running in an organised fun run or competition – regardless of the distance. But what about post-race recovery? And what should you do if you sustain an injury on the day? Here are my top tips:
Walk around after the race or do some calf raises if you get caught up in a crowd. Avoid standing still which can cause blood to pool in your periphery (legs and hands) thanks to gravity and tend to make you feel faint as your blood pressure drops. By walking and contracting your calf muscles, you will be promoting blood flow via your veins back to your heart. If you do feel faint or dizzy, let someone know and if possible lie down with your feet slightly elevated. Most competitions will have first aiders observing competitors cross the line for signs of any distress.
Hot/Cold Baths and Massage
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the deep muscle ache you may feel for up to 72 hours after a race especially if you have run further or faster than you have actually trained for. Typically muscle pain will commence the next day and peak on day 2 and be more pronounced with eccentric muscle activity (contracting and lengthening eg. walking downhill). There is some evidence out there in favour of post-race massage and alternating ice/warm baths in order to promote muscle blood flow so take advantage of the free massage at the finish if it’s being offered and the line is not too long! Avoid over stretching after the race as this could cause damage to muscles which may already be suffering micro-trauma.
If you have twisted an ankle or knee or felt a sudden pain or pulling feeling in a muscle such as quads or calf, you may have an injury which needs some attention. At large events there may be a physio tent where you can have your injury assessed and be provided with immediate advice on how to manage it appropriately. The RICE rule will generally apply to most acute injuries but get in to see your local physio or medical practitioner if pain does not improve within a few days, you are experiencing high intensity pain or are having difficulty walking or performing everyday activities. Some specific rehabilitation may be required to get you back on track.
Avoid taking anti-inflammatory medication in the case of muscle strains as these can increase bleeding.
Research shows that metabolism remains raised after exercise however the length and rate of increase depends on the type of exercise you have performed, the intensity and duration. One study in 2011 even showed a rise in metabolic rate in fit young males for 14 hours after 45 minutes of cycling !(ref. 1) Keep in mind that individual responses to exercise are varied and multi-factorial.
Make sure you have a light snack ready to consume within 15-30 minutes of finishing. Energy bars or bananas are ideal. Aim for your next light meal to consist of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and protein.
Electrolyte drinks can help replenish essential salts if you have run more than around 40-50 minutes but beware the extra sugar (and therefore the extra calories) some of them contain.
This is a no-brainer really but if you want to get all scientific about it then weigh yourself before and after the race to calculate your fluid loss. This will give you a good idea of how much fluid you need to consume afterwards. Take regular sips of water or electrolyte drinks soon after finishing and throughout the day. On a hot day after intense exercise, you may need to drink 2-3 litres post -race. Alcohol and caffeine drinks will be counter-productive if you are trying to rehydrate your body.
See you at the finish line!
“A 45 minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours”, Knab,A et al: Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011:43(9):1643-1648
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