Recovery! My ultimate 'piece yourself back together' survival guide.

The Spring running calendar is always packed, it’s probably the busiest time of year for any regular runner.  But with these events come big mileage training weeks, fatigued legs, tired minds and your body can breakdown if you’re not looking after it properly. I get asked a lot about my recovery schedule and how I manage to sustain such high mileage weeks consistently, so I’ve put together a list of things I regularly do.  Plus some options that I know I should do more of and then some things that I personally don’t bother with, but you might like to explore. 

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As usual, this is my opinion, based on what I’ve found works for me and what is right for my body and training load.  Please seek professional advice before changing your own regime or trying something new!  Also I’m not connected to any brands mentioned here, I buy all this myself! 

So in no particular order…

 

What I actively do. 

Compression.  Wearing compression products during or after your run will help increase the blood flow in that particular area.  I use some Compressport calf sleeves during harder workouts, then use some 2XU recovery specific leggings to relax in after an event.  

Shakes.  I always have a recovery shake after a run, usually made with milk or water if I’m out of milk.  I use MyProtein RecoverFuel, as it has a good balance of carbs, protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to kick start the recovery process.  I try to have this within 20 minutes of finishing my run.  Of course there are hundreds of options out there when it comes to recovery shakes, some with sky high prices that promise the world. You’re looking for something in the region of 4:1, carbs to protein. Some supermarkets have great own brand products at affordable prices (Aldi is meant to be particularly good) so check those out as I know many top marathoners who recover well with these powders.  

Massage.  I use a company called Urban Massage.  They are based in London, but are expanding all over the country.  They visit you in your home, it's very professional and a real time saver.  Every person who's visited has been extremely good, so I highly recommend checking them out.  For 20% off your first booking click here

Compex.  This is a real luxury and I purchased a Compex during my rehab from a stress fracture.  This is a electric muscle stimulator that attaches to your body via sticky pads.  It helped me strengthen my legs quickly when I couldn’t run properly and now I solely use it for massage and recovery.  I’m certain I get a benefit from it and it helps make the workload far more manageable, but for a runner who’s running 3 or 4 times a week, I don’t think it’s particularly necessary. Click here for more information. 

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Sleep.  One of the most important items on here, and so underrated! This is when you are actually adapting to become stronger and faster.  If you don’t sleep enough, then your body doesn’t have the necessary time to adapt and recover from all the running you’ve done.  I try and target 8+ hours a night, in bed for 11 and up at 7.  Anything less than this and you are potentially leaving yourself open to injury.  

Living an active lifestyle. When training, we shouldn’t just run and then continue with a sedentary life afterwards. For example, if you do a long run on a Saturday morning, you should still try and stay active the rest of the weekend. Resist the temptation to sit on the sofa watching Netflix for the next day and a half! Of course you deserve a rest but, where you can, try and remain as active as possible, trying to get the steps in, taking the stairs, getting off the bus early, going to the park with the kids etc. I appreciate that leading an active life can be difficult especially when so many of us are confined to an office for most of the day but all these extra movements that surround your training will cause further adaptations, strengthening your muscles, bones and joints and will help you recover quicker. 

 Typical Training Week.  Note the sleep and daily steps. 

Typical Training Week.  Note the sleep and daily steps. 

Post run food.  As I mentioned before, I always have a recovery shake after my runs but on top of this I try to make a conscious effort to eat something within an hour or so after finishing my run. Usually it’s just whatever’s lying around the house (toast, crumpets, a bagel etc) or if I’ve got a particular hankering for something I’ll stop off at the shop on the way home and pick something up. So sometimes it might just be some fruit but then other times it could be a lemon danish! Either way I would always aim to eat something post run, especially if it was a hard workout or a long run.

 Post run snacks.. something is better than nothing right?!?

Post run snacks.. something is better than nothing right?!?

Massage stick.  Who actually likes foam rolling?! Not me!  I use a muscle rolling stick.  It's so easy to use on your legs sitting on the sofa post run, or anytime you have a spare 5 minutes. Click here for the one I use. It’s great and I find it just as useful as any foam roller.  

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Recovery runs.  Are you scheduling in some SUPER easy runs during the week?  Way way slower than your race pace.  For me my marathon pace is around 3:30/km currently, but my recovery runs will be 4:50-5:00/km pace. If you have a heart rate monitor, it should be below 75% of your max heart rate, which for me is in the 140s. You should be able to easily hold a conversation at this pace. These are perfect for any days after your tougher sessions, you’re still getting the miles in, without causing any damage. 

Supplements.  I occasionally take Glucosamine Sulphate to help with my joints, calcium tablets with extra vitamin D to help with bone strength, plus an iron supplement to boost red blood cell count (I’m a veggie so don’t get the iron from meat/fish).  During the Winter months I also take a vitamin D supplement everyday, because of the lack of sunlight in the UK.  I have links to all these products on my kit page.  Click here! 

 The links to all these supplements are on my kit page. 

The links to all these supplements are on my kit page. 

Elevate your legs.  After a hard or long run it’s a great idea to raise your legs up.  Lie on your back, bum to the wall and put your legs up the wall so your body is in an L shape.  This causes the blood to flow back from your feet into your legs, right where your muscles need it. 

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What I should be doing more of.

Strength and conditioning.  Since my most recent injury I’ve certainly seen how critically important this is for any runner.  Have a read of my previous post about the gym work I’m doing.  This has now become part of my routine and I will continue to do it 3 to 4 times a week going forward. 

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Soft surface running.  My recent injury has all stemmed from running 100 miles a week purely on tarmac.  This is not clever at all and it was only a matter of time before I broke.  Going forward I’ll be aiming to off-set this by doing 40% of my weekly mileage on a soft surface such as a treadmill or grass / trails.  

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Warm baths.  No idea where the logic for this comes from.. But I like it.   Probably not as good as an ice bath, but I couldn’t never do that… I’m too weak!   However a warm bath after your run will help you relax, calm down, stimulate extra blood flow through your legs and kick start that recovery process. 

 

What I don’t do.

Stretching. It maybe controversial, but I rarely do any stretching, certainly nothing structured and timed to coincide with a run.  I will do a few drills and a bit of dynamic stretching (walking lunges, open/close the gate, squats, high knee skips, side leg swings) before a run for a minute or two, but I find the best warm up is to ease into each run gradually, with the first KM about 45 seconds to a minute slower than what I’d be looking to average for the whole run. Post run I will stop about 500m from home, walk the remaining distance then put my regime into practice from above.  I’d never static stretch at any time, it just doesn’t make sense to me why you’d want to pull on your muscles to that extent, stretching them into abnormal positions.  They will be adapting themselves through running, to become better suited and more adapted for exactly that activity.

Foam rolling.  It’s basically a huge faff, you never know if you’re doing it correctly and it’s just not enjoyable at all.  I prefer to use the roller stick from above as I personally feel the results are the same and it’s far easier to use and get right.

Worry about protein.  The hype over protein is crazy.  Don’t get sucked in to all the pre packaged items with protein emblazoned over them.  Stick to a balanced diet, eating everything in it’s simplest state you can and you’ll be just fine.

 

So that's it, that's what I do.  But remember not to up your mileage too quick, as no amount of recovery can rebuild broken down bones and that's what happens when the rate of progression is too quick.  Good luck and feel free to ask any questions!