Running 13.1 miles, or a half-marathon, is an incredible accomplishment. It takes weeks or months of training, hard work and strain on the body. Recovering from such a race is also a significant undertaking, as your muscles need to repair themselves from the natural damage that occurs to muscle fibers with exertion, and your legs have taken quite a pounding over those miles. After a half-marathon, allow yourself time to recover so you can begin running again in optimal shape.
During the half-marathon you should drink fluids to stay hydrated; after the race, continue hydrating. Drink water, fruit juice or electrolyte replacement sports drinks. The International Association of Women Runners, or IAWR, says to drink enough fluids that your urine is clear; this is a signal that you are fully hydrated. About 15 to 30 minutes post-race, eat something with carbohydrates. This is necessary to replace glycogen in your muscles, which the body uses as energy. The IAWR suggests continuing to eat a carbohydrate-rich diet for about two days after the race. Protein is also crucial after a race to help rebuild and repair muscles.
After running a half-marathon, your muscles need time to repair themselves. During extended exertion like the race, small tears occur in the muscles, and these need time to repair themselves. Though you may feel better and less stiff a few days after the race, there is internal muscle healing occurring, and rest will enable this to occur optimally. If you start running too soon, this can set you up for an increased risk of future injury. Many distance runners use ice baths to help reduce inflammation. According to a 2006 article in "Running Times" magazine, immersion in ice baths helps close microscopic muscle tears, and the body sends blood to the cold areas, which helps flush out waste that can accumulate during prolonged exertion. The magazine recommends staying in an ice bath for approximately seven or eight minutes, and to avoid tightness afterward, take a warm shower 30 to 60 minutes later.
Returning to Exercise
Cross-training can be a good way to keep active after a half-marathon while allowing your muscles and legs to recover. Cross-training, like swimming, yoga, cycling or even walking, should be done at an easy exertion level for approximately 30 minutes, suggests exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger, in "Running Times." These activities help send blood to your muscles and keep you flexible. There is no one formula for recovering and returning to activity after a half-marathon; it depends on your general health, age and diet. Be aware of the signals your body sends you; if you experience pain or soreness, take it easy and maybe reduce your mileage or do a non-impact activity like swimming.
Talk with other runners that have done half-marathons for hints and tips for recovery, and if you have a regular sports medicine specialist you see, talk with her about recovering from a half-marathon. Running 13.1 miles is no easy feat; you are putting your body and muscles through a lot of work, and they need recovery time. Rest is a part of race training, and should be considered as such in your training plans.