Whether your weekly long run is to prep for a marathon, half-marathon, 10K or really, any distance, most runners simultaneously look forward to and dread that moment when they head out the door to log the big miles. But how you prepare and recover from your long run can have a huge impact on how well the rest of your week — and your goal race — go. Case in point: Ultra-marathoners have been shown to need at least a week to recover from long races.
To avoid turning your long run of the week into your only run of the week, follow these steps before and after every long run for optimal recovery, smarter racing and more fun during your longest effort.
BEFORE A LONG RUN
Mental: If you’re training for a race, you’re going to want to treat your long run like a race-day gameplay. It’s also good to have a song that will get you pumped up if you’re having trouble motivating to get out the door. (Any “Rocky” montage will do.)
Physical: On the morning of your long run, make sure to warm up, because you’re going to be on the road or trail for a long time. Take a few minutes to do any activation work you normally would, like lunges or leg swings, and start slow by walking for a couple of minutes.
Nutrition: This is a great place to test your race-day eating and hydration plan, so make sure you have a plan before your run. Five minutes before leaving the house isn’t the time to decide if you’re going to bring a bottle or hydration pack or to be debating between a bar and a gel. Lastly, see below for the after-run nutrition notes and consider prepping a healthy meal for after your run so you’re less inclined to binge on fast food or that bag of chips you forgot was in the pantry.
Organizational: Again, because you’re treating your long run like your race day, or at least, using it as a chance to test your running shorts, sports bra/tank top combo and shoes, pretend you’re heading to a race and the night before your long run, lay out your gear. Make sure your watch and any other electronics are charged — there’s nothing more annoying than delaying a run start because you forgot to charge your GPS watch. If you are a fan of listening to music or podcasts, download and prep your playlist the night before as well.
AFTER A LONG RUN
Mental: This is your chance to figure out problem points to tackle ahead of race day. As soon as possible, log your run and take a few notes. How did your stomach feel? Did your clothing chafe after Mile 14? Is your right big toe feeling sore? Was there a point in the run where your mood plummeted? If you can list any potential problems while they’re fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to course correct for your next long run.
Physical: Even though your long run may not be at a fast pace, make sure to walk for a few minutes at the end to avoid your legs feeling locked up the second you stop. After that, do what feels good. For some people, this is foam rolling while watching Netflix, or going through a super-relaxed set of yoga stretches. If you find you have no energy or ambition post-long run, consider at least putting your legs up the wall for a few minutes.
Nutrition: Post-run, your focus should be on three things — hydration, protein and carbohydrates. Aim for around 20 grams of protein along with 1–2 servings of carbohydrates and plenty of water. Love pastries or pizza? Post-run is the best time to indulge in your favorite meals since your muscles can actually make use of those snacks. Just make sure you’re leading with protein and hydration, then chowing down on a reasonable amount of tasty carbs without overdoing it.
Organizational: When budgeting time for your long run, make sure you also set aside an hour or two afterward to decompress. As soon as you get home, don’t succumb to the allure of flopping on the couch. Get your sweaty clothes into the washer, your hydration pack or bottles into the sink and yourself into the shower. Once you’re clean, feel free to relax — and your future self will thank you for taking 10 minutes to re-organize your life before you collapsed.