Recovery after a half marathon is a serious business. Whether you’re an elite or a casual runner, there’s no question about it; 13.1 miles is a substantial effort. Good recovery reduces the likelihood of injury post-race and enables you to resume normal training in less time. Many runners plan their pre-race routine to the nth degree but do you have an effective post-race strategy? Check out these top tips to get back up to speed following a half marathon.
Within the first 24 hours after racing, your highest priorities in terms of recovery are initiating muscle repair and replenishing your muscle glycogen stores, so post-race refuelling is crucial if you want to enhance your recovery. The window immediately post-exercise is when your body is most able to absorb nutrients which are critical for the body to repair and regenerate itself. Aim to consume a snack containing a blend of carbohydrate and between 10 and 20g of protein within 30 minutes of finishing and then a proper meal within 2 hours. If your stomach is feeling delicate and you can’t face food immediately after the race then try a recovery shake instead.
Recharge and rehydrate
Even on a cold day you can expect to lose a small amount of bodyweight through fluid loss during a half marathon. Therefore restoration of fluid balance post-race is vital if you want to avoid the detrimental effects of dehydration on your subsequent training. Dehydration can impair recovery by prolonging muscle soreness and it also places a greater strain on your immune function, which will already be compromised post-race. The best strategy for post-race rehydration is to take on board fluid little and often. The maximum rate at which the intestines can absorb fluid, on average, is about 600ml so you should avoid drinking excessive amounts at once. A sports drink containing electrolytes is ideal, but alternatively you can rehydrate with water and sprinkle a little extra salt on your food to replenish the sodium loss through sweat.
It may not look particularly fetching or attractive, but post-race is the ideal time to don your compression gear. Numerous studies have shown that compression apparel can reduce the severity and duration of delayed onset of muscle soreness, increase venous return from the lower legs and enhance lactate removal. It is thought that the pressure exerted from compression apparel reduces tissue swelling and therefore enhances recovery, so pull on your compression socks or tights post-race for added benefit.
Train smart post-race
The second phase of post-race recovery that many runners get wrong is the return to training. Whether it’s through feeling pumped post-race or through fear of losing fitness, many runners make the mistake of returning to hard training too soon. Training smarter, not harder in the days immediately post- race can help you to recover faster and to maximise the fitness gained from the race. Be sure to respect a half marathon and schedule some rest or very easy days into your training programme afterwards. This is the time your body will be most susceptible to injury as it works to repair the micro-damage to the muscles. Faster runners can generally run long or faster again after around five days. However, more casual runners should wait at least a week.