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Recovery tips after a hilly race

By Henry Howard

For flatlanders like me it can be challenging to prepare for a race that has long climbs, significant elevation change or takes place in the mountains.

There are plenty of podcasts, web stories and other sources that give insight for how runners who live in flat areas can prepare for these hilly challenges. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, offering six tips for hill training.

But once the athlete has completed the race, regardless of how well they prepared, there will definitely be recovery time. Since the athlete’s body is not used to the challenging ups and downs, it will probably take longer to heal than it would for a runner who regularly trains on hills.

Last weekend, I ran the Whitestown 30K Trail Race outside of Knoxville. The three-loop course had a total elevation gain around 3,000 feet (though my watch had it closer to 2,800). In any event, here are some tips about post-race recovery.

10 ways to recover from a hilly race

1. Wear recovery sandals: I have a pair of the Oofos Sports Slide Sandals and use them regularly to help my feet recover from races and long runs. The Oofos foam helps absorb the pounding in the feet, providing cushioned support when your feet need it most. Immediately after the race, I changed into my Oofos and wore them pretty much for the rest of the day.

2. Rest: A general rule of thumb is to take a day off running for every 10 miles of the race. Instead of following the math blindly, listen to your body. If you don’t feel like returning to an easy run when the plan calls for it, take another day to recover.

3. Practice active recovery: Get the blood flowing to promote healing with active recovery. I recommend to my athletes to get some walking in the day after a long race. Yoga sessions, an easy bike ride and/or Pilates are all good ways to keep the body active without compounding the damage from the race.

4. Eat healthy: First, it’s totally acceptable and expected to celebrate your accomplishment. So don’t limit yourself on food to help you recover. Diet is such a personal choice, so it’s not appropriate for me to offer specific ideas for everyone. Enjoy the food that works best for your personal diet or lifestyle that allows you the best path to recovery. For me, that means eating healthy and focusing on plant-based options that promote recovery. Among those is Gnarly Nutrition’s Vegan protein mix. At 200 calories and 20 grams of protein, the chocolate protein shake gives me a welcome boost after a race or hard effort. At the Knoxville race, runners received a complimentary breakfast buffet. It had limited choices for me but I was able to get some fruit and somewhat begrudgingly had some eggs to go along with my Gnarly protein shake. Thankfully the eggs were packed with vegetables. But the point here is not to limit oneself.

5. Drink water: After a race, runners can be dehydrated so we need to drink water as we recover regardless of whether it was a 5K on a flat, paved path through a park or a 100-miler at elevation in the mountains. Drinking water eradicates soreness and flushes toxins from your body, which help your muscles recover.

6. Wear compression socks or sleeves: There really is not scientific proof that compression gear works. But anecdotal evidence does suggest that wearing compression gear enhances recovery. In hindsight, I wish that I had worn my compression tights to help my quads recover more quickly.

7. Massage gun: When I retrieved some recovery items from my car, I was sure to grab my Rumble Gun to massage my quads, lower legs and feet. As I wrote about in an earlier post, the massage gun helps quicken my recovery. I use it at least once daily, usually right after I foam roll each night.

8. Apply a CBD salve: There is no shortage of CBD wellness products on the market. I’ve used Prevail Botanicals for a few years and have found that the salve is beneficial to my recovery. (Full disclosure: I became a Prevail ambassador after trying their product.)

9. Elevate legs: I didn’t do this as soon as I should have as I had a seven-hour drive home after the awards ceremony. I would recommend laying on the floor with legs elevated along the wall for five to 10 minutes. 10. Catch up on other priorities: Take the time after the race to attend to some things that were set aside during your training. Maybe that’s reading a book or magazine, spending time with loved ones and doing some chores. Make good use of the extra time you have available before you return to training mode. As for me, I’ve got my big goal race of the year, now in six weeks. My down week is almost over so it’s time to put all the previous training and adaptation to use as my training revs up again in a few days, before the taper and then race day at the Zion 100K.


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