Running Recovery for any Distance

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This article was updated on 03/05/20.

Upper thigh muscle pain from running.
Upper thigh muscle pain from running.

Experienced runners have learned how to listen to their bodies and know all too well how to tread the thin line between injury and the optimal health that leads to peak performance. They understand and implement running recovery methods for any distance.

The Physiological Reasons for Recovery

First the good news—running causes your body to produce endorphins. These are the chemicals responsible for the so-called “runner’s high.” There’s no need for recovery there.

Not surprisingly, of all the elements of your physical makeup your muscles sustain the most damage during a run. The longer the run is, how challenging the route is and your present level of conditioning are the main factors that determine the amount of damage.

The larger muscle groups such as the buttocks and the thighs shoulder most of the load and consequently sustain the most damage. Generally the damage is temporary and nothing to worry about. This is often referred  to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is usually experienced after adding mileage to your weekly long run or tackling a marathon.

Running Recovery Guidelines for Different Distances

As you might imagine, the longer the distance is, the more involved and important recovery techniques become. Here are some to consider:

  • Typical training runs. Most of your mileage is of the familiar day-in, day-out variety. These workouts may not cause any soreness but it is important to follow these 7 basic running recovery tips. Cooling down properly, stretching and re-hydrating will go far in ensuring that you can lace up tomorrow injury-free!

  • 5K, 10K and half-marathon races. Any of these will impose more stress on your body than a training run. You still need to follow the basic tips but you might find it beneficial to take a very slow cool-down run after re-hydrating. Also, do some light stretching before climbing in the car for the ride home.

  • Full-marathon and ultramarathon recovery. Now you are entering into a more complex recovery situation; your muscles are almost certainly experiencing some micro-tearing and need some serious TLC. This calls for a multi-day recovery. Of course you will be building from all the recovery actions listed for shorter distances but you should add more rest to begin with.

Be generous with the ice packs for the next week or so, whenever you note soreness or a twinge of pain. Feel free to be a lazy bum (no activity) the first day following the event but eat copiously and nutritionally. Begin light stretching on the second day. Beginning on the third day short, easy recovery runs are in order but only if you feel like it.

As soon as you feel up to it, get back to your normal base. To insure staying injury-free, don’t neglect to incorporate your warm-up routine prior to every run. It may be tempting to skip but it is one of the best investments you can make.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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