The recovery aspect of training is just as important as the workouts themselves! If you aren’t taking recovery seriously, you won’t be running to your full potential and will probably end up getting injured. I had a run coach tell me that I needed to put just as much effort and determination into me recovery and rest days as I did into my runs. Recovery is the same as injury prevention. If you don’t bring that same determination to your recovery, then you could end up unable to run for weeks to months. No runner likes being relegated to the bike (although I am grateful for the workouts I can still do even when injured).
Here’s some of the best, tried and true methods for recovering during your marathon training. These methods will also help you recovery fast post marathon as well.
There’s a few things that fall into the ice category. First of all, well, ice! You should put baggies of ice or ice packs on the sore parts of your body (for most people that means the feet/ankles). At the height of marathon training, if I’m not doing cryo, I ice my ankle multiple time throughout the week.
Cryotherapy is awesome because it takes just ten minutes (well, more if you include the drive over there, depending on how close you are to one). You stand in a chamber that gets to -200 F for 3 minutes. It’s the equivalent of a 45 minute ice bath. I don’t know about you, but when I take an ice bath I have a hard time staying in longer than 10 minutes. Cryo is also better because it’s brining down your entire core temperature. There’s been multiple occasions where I’ve had a tender muscle and was icing it and doing my best but it still wasn’t totally healing. Then, after one cryo session it was totally fine! Even though you wear slippers, your feet will also benefit.
I’ve done the whole body cryo, where you walk into a fridge basically. All you have on is a face mask and ear muffs. However, these don’t get nearly as cold, and I didn’t feel like my legs really benefited from it. If you’re a runner (which if you are reading this, I’m assuming you are) that just go with the cryo chamber where your head sticks out.
I was such a pro-ice person, that taking Epsom salt baths made no sense to me. How can a hot bath help with inflamed muscles?? Well, it doesn’t. But inflammation isn’t always the problem. Heat helps the circulate blood, which helps loosen tense muscles. I became an avid fan of heat recovery when I had issues with my IT band. Going in the hot tub felt so good, and that plus putting a heat pack on it definitely helped the recovery. The hot tub had the added bonus of the jets. I would run it along my leg, as well as the arch of my foot, and it was basically like foam rolling but even better. Speaking of foam rolling…
Foam roll/Roll recovery
Foam rolling also helps increase blood circulation. It also helps loosen up your muscles due to myofascial release. If you’re like me, you read that and have no idea what it means. Self.com explains it here:
“That’s especially true if the fibers that make up your muscle fascia form what’s called “adhesions” or “trigger points,” de Mille says. “Ideally, all of these fibers are sliding by each other with ease as you move, like silky hair, but sometimes these fibers can get like hair that got some ice cream in it and it’s all stuck together.” Experts say that these tangles in fascia can form for a variety of reasons such as muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation, or trauma. For whatever reason, “the tissue binds to each other, loses elasticity, and forms taut bands of tissue that can be painful,” de Mille says. Myofascial release may help separate these fibers and re-establish the integrity of the tissue.”
There’s also the Roll Recovery which is the same as foam rolling. I prefer it, although you can’t use it to get your glutes.
Along the same vein as foam rolling, there’s rolling your arches. This helps with plantar fasciitis, as well as those with Accessory Navicular Syndrome. Or just regular runners with arch soreness. Rolling your arch (or putting a hot tub jet on it) seriously feels so good. If you’ve never tried it-I highly suggest it! You can buy tools specifically made for this, or if you already have a tennis ball that works just as well.
There are so many types of compression. A popular one-and the most visible-are the calf compression sleeve. There’s also the knee high compression socks which are the same. Some runners prefer the sleeve, that way they can wear whatever sock they desire. Then there’s the ankle compression sleeve, arm sleeves, knee sleeve, and I’m sure others-but those are the main ones. I wear compression socks while running every now and then. I am a huge fan of the compression ankle sleeves. It helps with my arches, as well as tired ankles. I wear them for every long run and race, as well as other runs depending on how I’m feeling.
I also do have recovery compression socks-not to be confused with performance compression socks. I wear the recovery ones while sleeping. If you plan on wearing compression great while sleeping, make sure it was made for recovery! Not all compression gear is created equally.
Last but not least, there are the compression boots. The most well known brands are Norma Tec and Rapid Reboot. I have used both and they seem exactly the same. Cryotherapy places will usually offer compression boots as well, which is where I go for it. You can buy them, but they upward of $1000. I would love to have my own at some point. These do all of the above, plus they are just so relaxing. They inflate and deflate, squeezing your legs, then releasing. If you have the opportunity to try these out you really should!
Cross training such as biking or swimming are great for recovery. When my legs may be too beat to run, I opt for the bike usually. Doing regular cross training helps prevent injury because it is working different muscles. Most injuries occur because the same muscles are getting used over and over while the others get weak. Cross training helps balance that out.
When I was a kid a had a sore ankle for some reason, and a sibling told me that I should sleep with my foot propped up on a pillow. I did it, and the next day my ankle felt so much better! When sitting on the sofa I will prop my feet up and sometimes while sleeping I will prop them up. Elevation is another one that helps with blood circulation. If you have a swollen ankle, propping it up so it’s above your heart will reduce swelling.
Tea tree oil
Part of recovery is also recovering from bad chafing. Every distance runner gets it to some degree, but if you get it bad enough, it can make future runs very painful. I am a firm believer in tea tree oil. I use Blue Steel anti chafe cream that has tea tree oil in it and apply it before runs. After a run, if I have a chafed area, I apply the tea tree oil anti chafe again after showering. I also use tea tree oil body wash. This helps heal chafing, as well as helping with eczema and prevents ringworm.
Healing occurs most while you are sleeping. If you aren’t getting much sleep, then your body isn’t able to do the necessary healing! I get at least 8 hours of sleep, and when training is ramped up, I get as much as 10 hours. If I am unable to sleep as much during the night, I try and nap during the day. This can be a tough one for those that have a lot going on. The best option is to try and go to bed earlier.
The food you eat is either helping you or hurting you. No surprise that eating super processed and sugary foods is hurting you. It causes inflammation and prolongs muscle recovery. Whereas eating natural, whole foods speeds up recovery. There’s a lot of foods that are anti-inflammatory, so I try and eat a decent amount of anti-inflammatories on a regular basis.
And of course there is stretching and mobility work. Mobility can be doing dynamic stretching, or yoga poses (I’ve been enjoying doing different yoga videos by Lindsey Samper). Both of which are stretching but increasing your mobility. This loosens up those tight joints and muscles. It’s also important to do moves that strengthen your hips and glutes. The majority of running injuries occur because you have week glutes and hips. Back to why cross training is good. You don’t want your quads doing all the work, you need to strengthen your butt so that it will take some of the pressure of your quads and hamstrings. Misaligned hips are also a big problem. This is one of the contributors to my running injury. There are some movements you can do to help your hip alignment (core work, yoga, barre) as well as going to the chiropractor.
Hope this post helps keep your legs feeling fresh, loose, and injury free!
What is your favorite recovery tool? Any I didn’t list here?