I have returned to running after a long hiatus, so I feel like a beginner again. Of course, many things have changed, but I am definitely noticing that my legs are not bouncing back from my runs as well as they used to. Any suggestions for aiding recovery?
What’s most important is that you are listening to your body and noticing these differences. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to slow recovery. Regardless of the cause, there are several things you can do to assist the recovery process.
Runners typically have a “training” plan, but rarely a “recovery” plan. Be proactive and make a post-run recovery plan to follow after every run.
1/ Include a cooldown phase after every workout
Jog very easy or walk for half a mile (or even 10 minutes) to facilitate the return to “normal” status. This also helps you avoid letting blood pool in your legs. Cooling down assists the body in redistributing blood flow, lowers heart and breathing rate gradually, allows your body temperature to drop and flushes metabolic waste products, which helps reduce muscle soreness. The main thing is don’t just stop running and head home for the couch.
2/ Change out of wet clothes immediately
Wet clothing can cool you down too quickly after a run. By putting on dry garments you keep your muscles warm, which promotes circulation that aids recovery. Good blood flow brings much needed nutrients to depleted muscles and carries metabolic waste away, exactly what you want following a run.
3/ Bring a towel or mat with you
After your cooldown, sit down and stretch before heading inside or getting in your car to drive home. Or, foam roll when you get home after a shower when your muscles are relaxed. This self-massage tool can help you work out kinks and increase your flexibility.
4/ Plan your post-run nutrition/hydration
Drink and/or eat within 20 minutes of finishing your hard run. You need water, carbohydrates and protein. Recovery drinks, protein shakes or chocolate milk all make good post-run drinks. Grab them from the fridge when you get back, or keep them in a cooler on ice if you’re out on the road. (Here’s more information on what to eat for recovery.)
5/ Look at your training plan
Is it appropriate for your current fitness level? Make sure you have recovery time between hard workouts. For example, training plans should alternate hard and easy days, vary weekly mileage, build long miles in gradual increments and have one or more days off from running. If you are bunching up hard workouts or not getting adequate rest, consider scaling back.
6/ Check your recommended training paces
Be sure you are not running too fast on some of your runs. This is a very common mistake that enthusiastic runners often make because they think this will make them faster quicker, but it usually just creates unnecessary fatigue and possibly leads to injury.
7/ Consider the weather
Summer weather means higher heart rates - making runs more intense - and this may be taking a heavier toll on you. Know that you will have to dial back your pace when you’re running in the heat. Extended recovery time between long runs or hard runs may be necessary. Heat and humidity also means more sweating, which means greater fluid and electrolyte loss, so make a conscious effort to replace lost fluids and replenish electrolytes with supplements should you need it.
Lastly, if you are really dragging, consider running fewer days a week. Whereas, running five or six days a week may have worked for you in the past, perhaps running three or four days a week may be a better option now.