You've pounded the protein shake, shivered in the ice bath, and mastered the art of self-massage (learn the surprising truth about these common recovery methods). Because you should do everything you can to speed your recovery from today's run, right? Maybe not.
How much recovery work you do depends on how close race day is. When it comes to their post-run routine, some elite runners actually employ fewer recovery aids during specific periods in order to maximize their training gains. Here's how this plays out during a 16-week marathon buildup.
BASE PHASE (Weeks 1-6)
Training focus: Building mileage
We tend to regard the effects of training stress—swelling, soreness, depleted glycogen stores—as negatives, and try to eliminate them as quickly as possible. But they are also signals that tell your body to repair and rebuild.
If you hit the ice tub and pop pills to stop swelling before it starts, your muscles may not get the message to grow stronger.
Recovery plan: Schedule a meal or a snack with at least 10 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs within 1 to 2 hours of finishing a hard workout. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep and eat a balanced diet. (Note: Do all this no matter where you are in your training!)
Skip ice baths, the foam roller, and anti-inflammatory pills—when taken regularly, they may actually slow recovery.
Related: 10 Best Post-Run Recovery Bars
PREPARATION PHASE (Weeks 7-12)
Training focus: Hardest workouts and longest runs
This is the trickiest time to balance stress and recovery. Your hard days are hard, and your body may need extra help to bounce back, but don't go overboard.
Elite coach Steve Magness has his athletes take postworkout antioxidant supplements during times of extra stress—like the first week of an altitude training block—to help their bodies adapt to the thin air. But once the week is over, so is the pill-popping.
Recovery plan: Take an ice bath after your hardest speed workout, and wear compression socks for the rest of the day after your long run. But avoid taking anti-inflammatories unless you feel an injury developing. As former marathon world champ Rob de Castella says: "A little pain never hurt anyone."
PEAK PHASE (Weeks 13-16)
Training focus: Getting ready to race
The rules change as you enter the final weeks before the race, Magness says. You've built all the fitness you can; now there's nothing more important than resting up and tending to your accumulated minor aches and pains.
Recovery plan: Deploy all the extras. Take ice baths after every hard workout and long run; if possible, schedule a weekly session with a massage therapist who works regularly with runners. At minimum, self-massage with foam rollers, sticks, and balls to work out tightness. Be methodical in your warmup and cooldown.Search for a race.