Recovering From Your First Half Marathon
So you just ran your first half marathon. Does this look familiar?
How about this?
I ran my very first half marathon at Disneyland in cotton leggings. I chafed in places I didn't even know existed. Directly after the race I was ecstatic. I had endless amounts of energy. We figured since we were already at Disneyland, we would take the rest of the day to enjoy the parks. I barely made it 3 hours before I announced I needed to body slam a giant burrito and spend some quality time with my bed. I then slept for 12 hours. I was EXHAUSTED. Seriously, utterly, totally, and completely spent.
Running a half marathon is absolutely incredible. It's also incredibly difficult. There's no greater feeling in the world than crossing that finish line but your journey doesn't end when they put that medal around your neck. I think of a half marathon in three phases.
Phase 1: Training
Phase 2: The Race
Phase 3: Recovery
Recovery starts with sore muscles. Let me introduce you to late onset muscle soreness:
This is happening to your body. During your half marathon your muscles developed tiny tears in their muscle fibers. You need to give them time to repair properly otherwise you are putting your self at risk for injury. The best analogy I have heard is from Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry. (Great book that was recommended to me by an awesome Run, Selfie, Repeater when I was developing shin splints early in my marathon training. It's a tough read but EXTREMELY informative.) Dichary equates your muscles to a box of straws. When the collagen fibers that make up your muscles repair properly they are perfect aligned and parallel. When you have hundreds of straws oriented the same way you can place incredibly heavy loads and stress on them without them collapsing. But if you take hundreds of straws and just fling them on the floor so that they go every which way, they won't be able to hold nearly the same load without collapsing because they aren't as strong. You want your muscles to repair properly so that your collagen fibers align pointing in the same direction. So how do you ensure proper repair? Well ladies and gentlemen, welcome to active recovery!
Recovery is different for everyone. Some people can take one or two days to rest and continue running no problem. The only universal is that you HAVE to listen to your body. The recovery phase is EXTREMELY important because it ensures that your muscle repair isn't compromised. Why? Because compromised muscle repair=weak body tissue=injuries. And let's be honest ain't nobody got time for that. Think you can just get up and run 6 miles no problem?
Now yes, some people don't need to take any time off from training after a half marathon. But unless you are training for a marathon or run long distances often, you probably need to take it easy for a week or two. I suggest first taking 2-3 full days off. The only physical exercise you should be doing is foam rolling, light stretching, and walking. If you feel up for it, incorporate some cross training on the third/fourth day. What kind of cross training? Here are some examples:
All the while foam rolling. SO MUCH FOAM ROLLING. I hate foam rolling. I'll be the first to hop in the foam roller hater line but it is so incredibly important. It hurts. It really, really hurts! But want to know what hurts more than foam rolling? Injuries. So hey, lesser of the two evils. If you don't have a really good foam roller, go invest in one. Don't go to a discount store and buy one of those $10.00 foam cylinders like I did. Go get yourself a good firm foam roller. Invest in your body. Just do it.
Fuel and Rest! Food and rest are extremely important during recovery. Don't think just because you ran a half marathon you can eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make sure you are getting the appropriate amounts of protein, fruits, and veggies. Balance that beer and ice cream sundae with a protein rich salad. (It's all about balance.) Your muscles need the nutrient dense healthy stuff to repair. And get your rest! Your body needs sleep. Take it easy on the late nights and try to get your 8 hours. Your body will thank you.
Some may find you are ready to run after a week. Some may need two weeks. Either way start slow. Keep your first run within 3-5 miles. Give yourself time to get back into the swing of things. Listen to your body. And hopefully you will start investigating when you can sign up for your next half, or maybe even a full!
Happy recovering everyone! Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.