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Long Run Recovery: 8 Tips To Optimize Your Recovery After A Long Run

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The long run. One of the most anticipated workouts of the week for all runners, where we get to develop our endurance, push ourselves, and work toward our goal race distance, whether it be a 5k or an ultramarathon.

Most training plans include one weekly long run, often on a weekend day due to busy weekday schedules, but this will depend on the athlete’s fitness level, training goals, and weekly schedule.

Most runners understand the importance of the long run, but what about long run recovery?

Sometimes, we focus so much on our training that we need to remember the importance of the other crucial factors.

How to recover after a long run is just as important as our weekly running and strength training workouts, as it allows our bodies and minds to regroup and prepare for whatever comes next and help keep up injury-free.

In this article, we will discuss long run recovery, what it entails, and the very best tips for how to recover after a long run.

More specifically, we will discuss: 

  • Why Is Long Run Recovery Important?
  • 8 Tips To Optimize Your Long Run Recovery 

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Runners sitting down after their long run.

Why Is Long Run Recovery Important?

Often, as runners, we always want to train more and more, harder and harder, and longer and longer, and even then, we can feel like we may be able to give even more. 

However, recovery is a staple in every athlete’s training program, and its importance cannot be overlooked.

But why is recovery after a long run so important?

Long run recovery will: 

  • Reduce your risk of overuse injuries. 
  • Prepare your body for your next training session.
  • Help avoid mental and physical burnout.
  • Reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (the DOMS) in the following hours and days.
  • Increase overall health and performance. 

These are some important reasons to take our recovery seriously. Now let’s check out how we can ensure we are recovering responsibly and correctly from our long runs: 

A person walking outside.

8 Tips To Optimize Your Long Run Recovery 

#1: Cooldown

Stopping abruptly after any workout can stress the mind and the body. 

The most important benefit of adding a short cool down as part of your long run recovery is gradually bringing your body back to functioning “normally” for everyday activities instead of continuing to fire on all cylinders as it was for your long taxing run.

Walking for five minutes after your long run can help bring your heart rate and breathing rate back to normal and help your muscles relax.

Research suggests that a cooldown may also help decrease the intensity of the DOMS or delayed-onset muscle soreness by increasing circulation and removing the waste products accumulated due to running.

A runner doing a lunge on a stone wall.

#2: Warm Up

Even though warming up is performed before your long run, it is just as crucial for long run recovery as cooling down is.

Before your long run, warm up with a 5-minute jog or light cardio followed by dynamic stretches. 

These stretches should include exercises like butt kicks, high knees, heel-to-toe walks, hurdles, scoops, lunges, and front-to-back and side-to-side leg swings. 

Warming up your muscles before your long run will decrease your risk of injury and muscle soreness after your long run and reduce joint and overall stiffness

For a complete pre-run warm-up, including how-to videos of each exercise, check out our guide: The 12 Best Pre-Run Stretches: Stretches To Do Before Running.

A runner stretching their hamstrings as part of their long run recovery.

#3: Stretch 

Stretching is one of those pieces to the training puzzle that almost all of us are guilty of skipping at one time or another or completely. 

Your muscles will most likely be tight and tired after your long run, and stretching them out afterward can be a great way to assist in your long run recovery as it is full of excellent benefits. 

Static stretching after a run can decrease your risk of injury, improve flexibility and range of motion in your joints, improve overall athletic performance, and help relieve muscle soreness.

After your long runs, stretch each of the muscles exerted, including your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and any other stiff muscles you feel could use a good stretch.

Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, ensuring not to strain your muscles; you should not feel pain while you stretch but just slight tension. Make sure you breathe deeply while stretching, and try to relax your muscles as much as possible.

For a complete post-long run cooldown stretching routine, including how-to videos of each exercise, check out our guide: The 12 Best Post-Run Stretches: Stretches To Do After Running.

A runner drinking a protein shake.

#4: Fuel After Your Long Run

Refueling after a long run is critical for adequate recovery. After pushing your body and burning virtually all your available energy, you must replenish what you have used. 

Even though you will undoubtedly be fueling during your long runs with gels, sports drinks, or whatever your running strategy entails, you will still be depleted afterward.

Consuming a protein and carbohydrate recovery shake or snack within 30-60 minutes after your run is ideal for reaping the benefits.

Research suggests that your body needs between 0.5 and 0.7 grams of carbs and between 0.14 and 0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight after a run. Consuming this mix will help muscle recovery and alleviate muscle pain over the next day or two so you can be ready for your next training run.

Within the next hour or so, enjoy a nutritious meal full of healthy proteins and carbohydrates to continue replenishing and refueling for optimal long run recovery.

A runner drinking from a bottle.

#5: Hydrate 

Just as it’s important to hydrate before and during long runs, it’s important to rehydrate afterward. 

Taking in enough fluid and electrolytes during a long run can be tricky, especially if the weather is hot and humid. Ensure you continue to hydrate after your long run to replenish the fluids and electrolytes lost. 

We often think drinking a lot of water is enough, but the electrolytes you lose through sweat must also be replaced.

Therefore, look into different sports drinks, coconut water, or other forms of natural electrolytes to top your electrolyte reserves off. 

Here are some sources of natural electrolytes you can take a look at.

A person foam rolling their hamstrings.

#6: Massage 

Massage can be a great way to get that blood flowing and help relieve muscle soreness. 

You can loosen up those muscles after a long run in several ways, such as foam rolling, compression socks or boots, massage guns, or, if you have the means, a sports massage from a knowledgeable physical therapist. 

These methods can increase circulation and blood flow and assist in moving along your long run recovery process by reducing stiffness and muscle soreness. 

#7: Sleep 

Getting enough sleep is an excellent way to recover and is necessary to continue training and performing at your best. 

If you cannot get the ideal total of seven to eight hours of sleep straight through the night, consider taking a nap if your schedule allows.

If you have trouble winding down before bed, try some tricks such as shutting off all electronic devices an hour before your bedtime, listening to sleep meditation instruction or music, using ear plugs and an eye mask to be in complete silence and darkness, or use essential oils to create a comfortable, relaxing environment. 

Whatever will help you drift off to sleep will help your long run recovery and ability to feel better, not just for training but for everything you need to do throughout your day.

A sleep mask on a bed.

#8: Rest Days

Respect your rest days!

Depending on your training plan, you may very well have a rest day planned for the day after your long run. Your scheduled rest day could be complete rest or an active recovery workout. 

Some examples of active recovery sessions include light recumbent cycling, gentle stretching, or leisurely walking. 

Anything that will get your muscles moving without overdoing it, or tiring you out even more, can be an excellent option for a recovery day.

Recovery is an essential part of training and ultimately becoming a better runner. Skipping these crucial steps can be detrimental to your training and your overall health. 

These tips will surely help you on your next long run recovery! 

For some recovery shake recipes for after your long run, click here!

A strawberry shake.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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