Are you a runner? Do you often participate in long runs? If so, it’s important to know how to properly recover after a run. Participating in long runs can be taxing on the body, and if you don’t take the time to recover properly, you may find yourself feeling sore and tired for several days afterward. This can limit your training or even lead to an injury.
In this blog post, we will discuss how to recover after a long run. This will help you feel your best with less risk of issues down the road.
13 Ways to Recover After a Long Run
Let’s review some of the best ways to boost your body’s recovery potential after a long-distance run and even prevent injury. What you consider long-distance will depend on your normal activity level. It can range from as little as 3 miles to 100 or more miles.
#1 Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Before you even reach for your running clothes and shoes, a good recovery starts with the right lifestyle habits. This means that you are making healthy choices that positively affect your body’s ability to function- at a cellular level and beyond. This includes things like:
- Getting enough sleep each night.
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol
- Actively practice good stress management
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Nourish your mental health with adequate self-care
- Take plenty of time to do the things you love
- Be social and spend time with family and friends (as needed)
All of these choices will help reduce inflammation and give your body the energy it needs to recover from strenuous activity. We dive deeper into these options in their own sections below.
#2 Always Start with a Proper Warm-Up
You should never start running without first doing a proper warm-up. This is true even if you’re only going out for a short run. However, it’s of particular importance with longer runs or in weather extremes (hot or cold). A good warm-up will help loosen your muscles and prepare your body for the upcoming activity.
To properly warm up for running, start by walking, jogging, or any other low-impact aerobic exercise, at a moderate pace for about five minutes. Then, consider doing some dynamic stretching exercises like leg swings or arm circles. Finally, jog slowly for a few minutes before picking up the pace to your normal running speed.
#3 Always End with a Good Cool Down
After you finish your run, it’s important to cool down properly. This involves slowing your pace gradually until you’re back to a walking pace. Once you’ve cooled down, do some static stretches for the muscles you worked during your run. Target the major muscle groups you worked (hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, etc.).
A good cool-down will help reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility. It also gives your body a chance to gradually slow down, which can help prevent dizziness or lightheadedness.
Part of your cool-down routine should also involve changing out of any sweaty (wet) clothing. This helps your body temperature return to normal and prevents you from getting chilled post-run.
#4 Get Enough High-Quality Sleep
Getting eight hours of sleep each night isn’t enough (although it’s a good start!). The quality of those hours matters too to allow the body time to fully rest and recover. On a cellular level, sleep is time for the cells to rebuild and repair any damage done during the day. That’s why it’s essential to both get enough sleep and to make sure that it is high-quality sleep.
There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting deep, restful sleep each night:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (even on weekends)
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours
- Exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime)
#5 Fuel Your Body with Nutrient-Dense Foods
Eating a nutritious diet is essential for runners, especially those who participate in long-distance runs. Without the right nutrition (calories AND nutrients), the body has to work harder to burn energy while running. Additionally, it makes it harder to run. A balanced diet that doesn’t involve excessive processed (packaged) food is most important.
What diet is best for you as a runner will depend on your training regime, genetics, age, and preferences. Some general principles to follow include:
- Eat whole foods (ones that don’t need ingredient labels- i.e. eggs, fruits, grains, vegetables)
- Most runners will need a higher percentage of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores for energy in the body- reach for less processed whole grains when possible
- Limit processed sugar intake- particularly in drinks
- Make sure you’re getting enough protein and iron each day to help with muscle recovery from sources like meat, beans, and leafy greens
What you choose to eat before your run and long after both have effects on your ability to recover.
#6 Keep Your Body Hydrated
Proper hydration is essential for all runners but becomes increasingly important the longer your run. Dehydration can cause cramping, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue- none of which are fun while running (or anytime!).
To make sure you’re properly hydrated:
- Drink water throughout the day leading up to your run
- Carry water or a sports drink (preferably one without food coloring or excess sugars) with you on runs lasting longer than an hour
- Drink before you feel thirsty
- Rehydrate after your run with water or a healthy sports drink, such as coconut water or tea with honey and lemon.
- A good rule of thumb is to drink 8 to 16 ounces of water per day when you are training daily.
Ultimately, you will know that you’re well-hydrated when you are peeing every few hours. Plus, the urine should be lighter in color (not dark).
#7 Let Your Body Rest
It’s important to let your body rest after a long run. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay in bed all day, but it does mean that you should take it easy and avoid strenuous activity. Consider taking a nap, reading a book, or spending time with friends or family.
If you’re training for a long run, make sure to schedule dedicated rest days into your calendar as well. It’s important to take rest days as seriously as training days when it comes to recovery. Since many athletes are tempted to skip their rest days and keep pushing themselves, this is an important detail to remember.
#8 Use Modalities to Help with Recovery
There are a few modalities that can help with recovery after a long run. These can help keep your blood moving and reduce any discomfort. These include:
- Compression garments- such as arm sleeves or leg sleeves, provide support to the muscles and help with recovery
- Epsom salt baths- can help with aches and pains
- Ice therapy- helps to reduce inflammation and pain
#9 Massage the Soreness Out
A massage can do wonders for post-run recovery. It helps to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation. If you don’t have time for a professional massage, consider using a foam roller or lacrosse ball.
Self-massage can be done before or after a run. For best results, do it when the muscles are warm. Use long, slow strokes and apply pressure as tolerated.
When you’re finished, the muscles should feel looser and less tight.
#10 Re-arrange Your Training Schedule (as needed)
If you’re feeling especially sore after a long run, it might be a good idea to re-arrange your training schedule. This might mean taking an extra day or two of rest or cutting back on mileage for a week or two. In general, a longer or harder run should be paired with at least a day of running anyways.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. Pushing through pain can lead to injuries, which will set you back even further.
If you’re feeling good, then there’s no need to make any changes. Just keep up the good work!
#11 Go for a Walk
Walking is a low-impact activity that can help you to recover from a long run. It helps to increase blood flow and reduce muscle soreness. While rest is important, sitting around too much can result in unnecessary soreness too.
Since most of us tend to sit a lot of the day for work or entertainment, walking is a great way to break up time spent in a chair. If you’re feeling especially sore, consider going for a short walk (30 minutes or less). If you’re feeling good, then go for a longer walk or even a light jog.
#12 Try Some Yoga
Yoga is a great way to stretch out the muscles and improve flexibility. It’s also a good way to relax the mind and body after a long run. If you’re new to yoga, consider taking a class or two at a local studio.
There are also many yoga videos available online for all levels (free and paid). If you’re short on time, try doing a few sun salutations or some basic stretches. Even a few minutes can make a difference!
#13 Listen to Your Body
This point can’t be stressed enough- listen to your body! If something doesn’t feel right, make sure to take a break and see how you feel. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to running (or any physical activity). When you push your body to new limits, it’s important to give it the time it needs to recover.
When These Tips Aren’t Enough
If you have lingering pain or stiffness, feel it’s taking too long to recover, or are dealing with an aggravation of a current (or past) injury, it’s probably time to seek some professional help.
A physical therapist is a great choice to help with recovery, injury prevention, and/or injury management. They can give you tips for reducing pain, boosting flexibility, and improving your overall running form.
Other professionals that can guide you include:
- A certified running coach
- A sports medicine doctor
- A biomechanical running specialist (usually a physical therapist specializing in orthopedics and/or running)
If you’re dealing with an injury- or just feel “off,’ it’s always best to get it checked out sooner rather than later. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll be on your way to an optimal recovery.
See our full resource on physical therapy for athletes here.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from A Long Run?
It depends on how long and hard the run was, as well as your training schedule. In general, it’s important to take a day or two of rest after a long run. You might also need to cut back on mileage for a week or two. If you’re feeling especially sore, it might be a good idea to adjust your running schedule as needed.
During your recovery time, try a mix of any of the 13 tips listed above. What works for each person will ultimately depend on preferences. Most importantly, give your body adequate rest and love so that you continue running without complications.
How to Recover After a Long Run – Finding a Balance
For all runners, it’s important to find the right balance between exercise and rest. With the right recovery, you can keep gradually pushing yourself to new limits. If you follow a long run with the proper recovery protocol, you should feel great and be able to hit your next training session feeling refreshed in the next few days.