Self-Care for Runners: Making Time for Recovery
Running is hard on the body, especially if you are new to running or training hard for a race. The longer the distance of the goal race, the harder the training demands on your body. To stay healthy and prevent overtraining, incorporating self-care is just as important as following your running plan. Here are some key areas on which to focus:
Sleep. Sleep is one of the key ways your body recovers from the demands placed on it by your running program. Everyone is different, but generally, you need 7-9 hours of sleep each night to properly recover from your workouts. Going to sleep at the same time every night, staying away from screens (tv, phone, computer) for a few hours before bed and eating dinner several hours before bedtime are all helpful tactics to promote restful, restorative sleep. It’s also best to sleep in a cool, dark room. If you have anxiety at bedtime or trouble “shutting off” your mind, consider a weighted blanket.
Eating and nutrition. Eating enough calories and the right nutrients provides the building blocks your body needs to recover from training and injury. It is important to pay attention to total calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to ensure that you are getting enough of each. There are several phone apps (My Fitness Pal, My Plate, Fooducate) that can help you keep track of your food intake and make sure you are getting adequate nutrition.
Alternatively, you can consult a registered dietitian for a meal plan tailored to your specific needs. As you ramp up your training, monitor your weight. Unless you are on a specific weight loss plan, your weight should be staying stable within a 3–5-pound range. If you are consistently losing weight as you ramp up your miles, add some additional high-quality protein and carbohydrates to your daily diet.
Hydration. Adequate fluid intake goes hand-in-hand with proper nutrition in giving your body the tools it needs for training recovery. Make sure you hydrate properly before every run: two hours before the run, drink between 17 and 20 ounces of water. About 10 minutes before you run, drink another 10 to 12 ounces. During your run, drink approximately 7-10 ounces of fluid every 10-20 minutes. Adjust this as necessary based on your own “sweat rate.” For half marathon long runs, consider replacing half of the water with an equal amount of electrolyte drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) You can mix the water and electrolyte drink for convenience and digestibility. In addition to your running-related hydration, try to stay hydrated throughout the day. Everyone’s daily hydration needs are different, so the easiest thing to do is pay attention to the color of your urine. Pale or clearer usually means you’re well hydrated. If it’s dark, you probably need to drink more fluids. However, be aware that other things (vitamins, food, medication, etc.) can influence the color of your urine.
Stress management. Running stresses the body, so it is important to minimize other sources of stress during times of intense training in your running program. It is difficult to avoid stressors in life, but if possible, avoid things like moving to a new living space, job changes and other disruptions when you are in the most difficult portions of your training and in the weeks leading up to a key race. Since life disruptions are difficult to prevent, try some stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing or general relaxation. There are lots of stress management phone apps available (Calm, Headspace) that can help you learn to relax and meditate. These practices can help improve your recovery from training.
Body work (massage, physical therapy, etc.). One way to increase your work capacity for running is to seek active recovery services from a sports physical therapist or certified and licensed massage therapist. Modalities such as compression boots (Normatec, Rapid Reboot), vibration massage (Legiral, Hypervolt), manual therapy (from a physical therapist or sports chiropractor) and massage therapy (from a certified and licensed massage therapist) are great ways to accelerate your recovery from hard workouts.
Time management. Running takes time out of an already-busy schedule. A big part of self-care is managing your time so that your life isn’t overbooked and you have time for everything important in your life. Keeping a calendar (readily available on your computer and phone) is a great way to manage and evaluate your priorities and activities. Make sure you schedule your runs on your calendar and include free time in your schedule. Your calendar will give you a structure from which to turn down activities that overburden you and/or are not high priority.
Cross-training. Running works your muscles in a very specific way. Cross-training (exercise other than running) helps to balance the muscles of your body. I discussed strength training in this injury proofing blog post. Additionally, low-impact or upper body-intensive cardio (such as cycling, rowing or the elliptical trainer) are all ways to give your running-specific muscles a break while continuing to elevate your fitness.
Good self-care will allow you to train harder without breaking you down with illness or injury. Focus on these areas to ensure training success.
Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness