Ultra Marathon Recovery Plan: How to Recover After a Hard Marathon or Ultra Marathon

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Let me be honest here. I made a commitment to myself to write at least one blog post per week. But recently, I have been really struggling for ideas. On top of that life has been really busy with two kids and 2.5 hours of commute to work. This is in addition to high volume training for my next race.

Initial few weeks had been great but lately I don’t know what to write about. Luckily something struck to me when I recalled my conversation with my friend Hemant Singh.

Hemant Singh is one of the best ultra runner in India. He asked me to share my experience of post race recovery. There you go, I found something to write about.

In this post I will share my experience of post ultra marathon recovery. Thank you Hemant for asking this. Hemant can be seen in the picture celebrating his incredible 2:54 marathon finish.

What is recovery

In simple terms, recovery is the state of human body when it return back to its full strength and health. The full strength vary from person to person but two important factors to be considered here are 1. How long you can run without struggling and feeling tired 2. How fast your can run with the same effort as you used to run before the race.

I will use both long run and fast runs as recovery indicators. But this should be done only 2-3 weeks after the big race.

Why recovery is important

Running 26.2 or longer is a strenuous activity. This not only require proper training but also need a strong mind. No matter how trained you are, there will be some point during the race that one voice will ask you, why I am doing this all? Is it needed? Can I finish it? Your body uses all the glycogen store and your muscles get wear and tears. The inflammation will set in and then we need to heal it after a race.

What beginner runners usually do

Recovery is often times ignored by new marathon enthusiasts. I have committed several mistakes and have never paid attention to recovery in past. Here is what really happens after a long distance race

  • We go and run a marathon and/or an ultra marathon
  • Runners tell themselves that they will never do this again
  • Very next day, they/we start looking for the next long distance race
  • Then most of the runners decide to do another one
  • We then jump back into training
  • To get faster, we do speed workout just couple of days after the race and give invitation to injuries.

Last two points shows that an athlete (myself in 2014-2015) has not paid attention to recovery at all and as a result got injured. To avoid injury and recover well, I will here layout an ultra marathon recovery plan. Part I includes day by day recovery for 4 weeks after an hard ultra marathon. In the Part II, we will discuss some factors that may positively affect your recovery.

Part I

Race day

Keep drinking water to rehydrate yourself and watch color of your urine. You must keep sipping water until it has turned clear. You wont realize how dehydrated one can get even during an winter ultra marathon when we do not sweat much. Special care must be taken to re-hydrate your body.

If you are doing a marathon or 50k distance, going for a 20 minutes walk in the evening time can be useful.  In case you ran longer, there is no point of going for a walk because your body will be so damn tired.

Day 1-2

If you are a runner, there may be little chance that you just like to run and walking is not your piece of cake. Changing that habit will sound weird but walking do really help in recovery.

If you want to recover better and faster, go for a walk at least for couple days after your big race. This will increase blood flow to tired muscles and that will eventually help in faster recovery.

Day 3-7

Depending on the level of your soreness and muscular damage, by now you must be ready for some jogging. If you feel that jogging is not possible then do walk-jog. Walk for 30 seconds and then jog for 30 seconds. There is no hard and fast rule that it must be 30 seconds or so. You can modify that according to how you feel. Like in ultra marathon training, listen to your body is more important while recovering from a race.

Day 8-14

Things will feel much better by now but there may still be some soreness on your muscles. Though, I have never done cross training myself but I am very confident that cross training can be used to recover faster. Use this week for alternate days of biking and jogging/waking. Since you will be using your running muscles less frequently but still providing necessary blood flow for recovery by engaging yourself in various physical activities. This will certainly speed up your recovery. Again, if things feel hard, take a step back and walk.

Day 15-21

I usually start building my mileage again in the third week after the race. But depending upon your age and how you feel, this can be modified. I will still avoid any hard run in this week but would start running at slow pace which is 9-10 minutes per mile for me. I would do a few miles at 8 mins per mile pace but won’t do it more than twice in the third week.

After my ice age 50 miler in May 2019, I ran 100 miles in the third week of recovery. Which I think is still too much. Since my next race is in August, I am always feel under-trained for my future goals. Running 100 miles in the third week is not advisable but depending on how you feel and for how many years you have putting consistent mileage you can get away with it.

Day 22-28

I start my normal training in the 4th week but remain cautious. If there is any persistent pain, I slow down and change my training plan immediately. There is not point of sticking to a training plan and getting injured. Check how your body is responding to the reboot and adjust your runs accordingly.

Part II

Food

I never paid attention to post marathon or ultra marathon and got myself into extended period of recovery. I still eat whatever is front me me but during the training when I run more than 14 miles per day I started observing difference difference in my next day workout based on what I eat.

Since inflammation in body is necessary but too much of it is not good. It is a established fact that long distance running cause inflammation in body which is higher than the needed. Food plays an important role to reduce that extra inflammation. Some food items such as berries are anti inflammatory and could be used more frequently while recovering.

In my personal experience, I feel that high carb foods along with dairy products should be completely avoided after a race.

Berries of all kind on the other hand must be consumed. Other great food items that certainly helps in faster recovery are leafy greens such as spinach and kale. I also feel great when I eat veggies like broccoli, carrots, asparagus, Brussels sprout.

Cucumber salad with olive oil and vinegar along with raw avocados are great too. Check out my weekly diet plan that shows my dinner salad (cucumber salad)

I am a tea addict. The tea I usually make is with milk. This does not help me recover faster. I have tried avoiding it after a long run or a race and can clearly see the difference in my energy level. I think milk is culprit here. Dairy products does not help in reducing inflammation but rather worsen it. There have been many scientific study where they show dairy products cause inflammation. I wish I can totally avoid tea after a race.

If you don’t have cheese or tea addiction, then you are at a good place for a faster recovery.

Speed Workout (DO NOT DO IT)

I am stating the obvious here but it is very important to remember that marathon takes toll on human body. It is not a great idea to start running faster just after the race.

Do not do a speed workout after a race

If you do that, you are most likely sending invitation to injury. In my quest to run Boston marathon in 2014, I ran Last Chance BQ 2 in September of 2013. I ran that race while my lower back was constantly bothering me.

My wife advised me not to run that marathon but i did not hear anyone. I finished the race well below my Boston Qualification time. Even worse, I went for a tempo run just 3 days after my marathon and hurt my lower back badly. At any cost, avoid doing any faster workout after a big race.

Sleep more

Most of the recovery takes place when we rest. The best form to rest is sleep. Try to sleep more after a big race and that will certainly aid in your recovery. If you are getting a 6-7 hours sleep, shoot for 8-9 for next couple of days after your big race.

Life can sometime be challenging with family, job and training but make time to sleep as much as you can during your recovery periods.

Take supplement

I did not pay much attention to any kind of supplement till last year. I also do not have any proof that it helps. But during my big training blocks, I feel to have more energy when I started incorporating fish oil in my diet. I also think this helps in faster recovery. Here is one interesting study where they showed the high dose of fish oil may help you recover faster.

If you eat fish, then you even do not need to take fish oil supplement. But, for people like myself, fish oil with Vitamin D can be a game changer.

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