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You buy the right shoes and create a killer training plan with plenty of built-in “days off.” But, if that’s the only way you plan to recover from your runs, that’s your first recovery mistake.
While rest is important, there are many other things you need to do to perform at your best, from self-massage to drinking enough water. To keep yourself injury- and burnout-free, while making sure your body is happy and healthy, double check that you’re not making these running recovery mistakes.
1. Not Cooling Down
The process of recovery starts before you end your run. When you hit your stopping point, the first instinct is to come to a halt and catch your breath. However, it’s important that you don’t stop immediately, and rather slow to a jog and then a fast walk before stopping completely.
After a run, you need to let your heart rate return to its pre-run state, according to experts at Orthopaedic Associates. Not only is your heart rate high, but your blood vessels are also constricted, so stopping in your tracks could cause you to pass out or get sick. Instead, slow to a jog for the last five to 10 minutes to give your body the recovery time it needs before unlacing your shoes and hitting the couch.
2. Not Rehydrating
When you finish a long run, what do you want? You want sustenance to feed your hungry body. In your rush to the kitchen for a snack, it’s easy to forget that your body needs to replenish something else as well: water.
Our bodies consist of 75 percent water, and the amount we need post-exercise depends on a variety of factors including gender, age, height and intensity and length of your run. Drinking anywhere from 10 to 50 ounces may be necessary.
One quick way to determine your water needs is to use this hydration calculator, which gives you the exact amount of ounces to drink. The calculator asks questions about duration and intensity of exercise and your weight, height and gender to give you an accurate number.
There are three self-tests you can do as well:
- Skin snap: If you pinch a small piece of skin on the top of your hand and it snaps right back, you’re hydrated. If it returns to normal slowly, you need water.
- Urine color: It should be a light yellow to clear color.
- The scale: Step on the scale before your run and after. The difference in weight is the amount of ounces you need to drink to replenish what you lost.
3. Not Making Time for Tissue Care
While some people forget to stretch after a run, even more don’t realize the importance of myofascial care using foam rollers or therapy balls. These methods of recovery are focused on self-myofascial release, which is a way of hydrating tissues, releasing muscle tightness and trigger points (knots), to increase mobility and flexibility and do so much more for the body. Check out the fundamentals of foam rolling or get on the ball for a better run to get started, if you’ve never rolled before.
You can target your muscles using a foam roller or tennis ball and should focus on a few main areas:
- Hip flexors
Focus on rolling along the entire length of the muscle, so for your calf, you’d roll from the top of your Achilles to you’re the back of your knee. Roll the entire muscle for one to 10 minutes and stop in places that feel tender, focusing just on that area for 30 seconds.
Practice foam rolling or self-care on a therapy ball after longer or higher intensity runs, (or before a run), or really, whenever you feel your body needs it, i.e. you’re tight or extra sore.
4. Not Changing Intensity and Distance
You may be surprised to know that professional runners rarely run at their competition pace or hit their competition distance when training. That’s because it’s too much for the body to run far and long for every run—it needs time to recover.
If you’ve been bitten with the running bug, it may be difficult to convince yourself to take it easy on your next run after a long or intense running session, pulling back for a recovery run. However, this is a critical element of recovery.
Why? Higher intensity runs, especially when using a HIIT-interval format, utilize your anaerobic energy system, meaning you use in less oxygen and you’re out of breath faster. Long and slow runs, also called “steady state cardio,” utilize your aerobic energy system, which requires you to take in more oxygen so you can maintain your pace for much longer. As a runner, you want to train both systems because you use your aerobic system to recover between high-intensity, anaerobic, runs and sprints.
With that in mind, a good rule of thumb is to go on at least one to two shorter “recovery day” runs for every long, high-intensity run.
5. Not Running By Feel
If you’re training for a race, you may have a goal pace in mind. However, it’s important to focus on the pace that feels “right” during your training runs. There are a variety of factors that affect how fast you can run, including weather (heat and cold), what you ate that day, how well rested you are, among other things. Focusing solely on pace for every run will lead to burnout and potentially injuries as you push yourself to maintain a pace that your body isn’t comfortable with.
If you have a hard time adjusting your pace strategy, slowly decrease the amount of times you use this as a marker for training success; preferably just one to two runs a week.
Recovery involves more than taking days off—you need to foam roll your muscles, get enough water, and much more. Focus on the recovery your body needs to avoid burnout and injuries, and you’ll start to become the best runner you can be.