Waking up the day after a long run can be a painful experience. Your legs are like boards of wood and even the act of sitting down is more like a flop. This feeling can be doubled if you have to get up and run again.
Yet, this is what so many runners do when they enter a multi-day stage race, like the 250km Marathon des Sables, or if they embark on back-to-back training sessions to replicate the feeling of having tired legs during the latter stages of a long race.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure the best recovery:
Before you even finish the run, bear in mind there’s more to come. Adjust your expectations and your speed accordingly so you are going slower than you normally would over that distance. Sure, you can probably fly through a 40km race, but you will only end up slower overall if it means you are crawling the next day.
Learning to pace yourself comes from experience. Make sure you incorporate back-to-back sessions into your training so you know the balance between pushing yourself and saving yourself.
Do not get sucked into the fight when the gun goes on the first day. Run slowly, safe in the knowledge that you can reel in rivals later in the week.
Rest your mind
Working or staring at a computer is not rest just because you are sitting down. Mental energy is finite, just as physical energy is. Make sure you recharge your mind by relaxing, which can mean different things to different people. Read a book, listen to music, watch some TV, chat to friends or tune into a podcast.
Make sure any potential stress is removed before you might encounter them. For example, if you are returning to your home between runs, ensure domestic chores are done so you do not have to deal with them. Buy your food before the run so it is waiting and you can cook hassle free.
If you enter the next day mentally drained, even if your body is feeling fine, sports psychologists say you will find the same task far more difficult. Your perceived effort will be far higher for the same outcome.
Food is incredibly important in the recovery process, but this is not the time to experiment. Just because you read about some miracle sports drink or the benefits of some rare fruit, do not consume them for the first time on race day.
Experiment in training with different foods and see what sits best and helps you recover. It could be lots of carbs, like pasta, a high protein meal or lots of fruit to reduce swelling. Make sure you know before the race, especially if it’s a multi-day event.
If it is dried food, be patient and make sure it is fully rehydrated before eating, even if you are starving. There’s rarely a toilet in the middle of a multi-day race that can comfortably accommodate the side effects if the food has not absorbed the water.
Get off your feet and stretch
Sit down and spend time off your feet. It is as simple as that. Do not wander around chatting to people as this will inhibit your recovery.
Take the time to stretch or foam-roll those tired muscles.
Flip flops and fresh clothes
Have a fresh set of clothes ready at the end of each day, if possible. It will do wonders for your mental recovery and give you something to look forward to. If you have to carry all your clothes, that might not be possible, but at least have something comfortable.
Give your feet some air. They’ve been confined to sweaty trainers all day. Wear some flip flops. The air will help blisters heal. Sticking your feet back in shoes might lead to a sweat-induced infection called pitted keratolysis.
Accept the pain
Last but not least, accept the pain. No matter what you do, when you wake up on the second day you will be stiff at best. If your race is several days, that pain will get worse and worse. That’s why running multi-day races is such a challenge.
Bear that in mind and mentally prepare. Once you start running, it may take an hour or so but your body will warm up. Your shoes will soften and stop rubbing. You will begin to feel better, but never your best.