Racing season is in full swing! You train for months, taper, carb load and run your heart out. And then it's time to recover - a time that's weirdly more challenging for some of us than the actual training & racing.
So why is adequate recovery after a race so important, and what does optimal recovery actually look like?
Exercise causes changes in the immune and metabolic systems, increasing the production of various enzymes and proteins. Following highly intense or extreme exercise, the body's immune response is similar to that caused by other life stressors like illness, sleep deprivation, grief, etc.
A 2019 study called "Recovery of Inflammation, Cardiac and Muscle Damage Biomarkers After Running a Marathon" looked at the following biomarkers of cell damage & inflammation in runners after a marathon to determine rates of recovery:
1. Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH): nonspecific marker of tissue damage
2. Creatine kinase (CK): marker of acute/recent muscle damage
3. High-sensitivity troponin-T (hs-TNT): marker of acute/recent myocardial damage / damage to the heart muscle
4. C-reactive protein (CrP): marker of acute inflammation
1. Nonspecific tissue damage markers were highest just after finishing the race and normalized after 8 days of recovery
2. Muscle damage markers were highest 24 hours after the race, and remained elevated until 6 days post
3. Cardiac muscle damage markers peaked immediately after the race and normalized 4 days later
4. Acute inflammation markers were highest 24 hours after the race and began to decrease 8 days after but remained higher than baseline/pre-race
Though this study was done on athletes who had just completed a marathon, it's likely that similar damage occurs following a half-marathon albeit to a lesser degree.
Knowing how long markers of tissue damage & inflammation last following an intense effort can help guide recovery plans. The study recommended avoiding training that causes more muscle damage (e.g. running, lifting weights) for at least 4 days after a road marathon.
Post-marathon, I recommend taking at least 7 days off from running & lifting weights since some inflammatory markers stay elevated 8 days or more.
Post-half marathon, though we don't have any studies on this that I am aware of, I recommend cutting that in half and taking at least 4 days off from running & lifting.
Light walks, easy bike rides, or easy swims can be good ways to move during this period. In addition, you'll want to make sure you're continuing to listen to your hunger cues and eatttt - especially carbs - to ensure optimal tissue repair.
As you ease back into running, keep it easy peasy - recovery continues past your time completely away from running & lifting.
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