The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is just days away. In preparation for the race, we expect you’ve been religiously following a training schedule, eating right, keeping yourself hydrated and sleeping 6-8 hours daily. You’ve broken in a pair of shoes that are right for you, picked out your clothing and read the literature. But if you’re like most runners, there’s one aspect of the prep you’ve probably overlooked—the recovery phase.
After a run, a novice runner will take anywhere between 10 days and two weeks to recover, while “a seasoned runner would take five-six days before their body returns to normal—in terms of (how they are) feeling”, says Shayamal Vallabhjee, Puma sports scientist.
Mumbai-based Vallabhjee explains the new runner is likely to face a host of niggles, from soreness to chafing (when the skin is affected because of friction). “The No.1 thing is he’s going to be in a little bit of pain. That’s normal if he’s going to be running the 21km,” he adds.
For speedy recovery from sore muscles and aches, Vallabhjee suggests an ice bath: Empty two-three bags of ice in a bathtub and open cold water, so the temperature drops close to 3-4 degrees Celsius. Soak in the ice bath for about 3 minutes, then take a hot shower. Repeat this cycle three-four times, if you can, to flush the lactic acid out of the body. “Because of the constriction and dilation of the blood vessels, you’re creating a pumping action in the body—that’s just fast-tracking all the lactic acid out of the body. That is one of the best recovery methods,” says Vallabhjee.
Agrees Rahul Verghese, founder of Gurgaon-headquartered Running And Living Infotainment, which organizes runs like the Himalayan Marathon. “It may sound like torture, but once you’re in the water it doesn’t seem so bad,” says Verghese, who will be a pace-setter for two visually-challenged participants at the Delhi half marathon. To make it easier in this weather, he suggests dipping just the legs, up to the thighs, in chilled water for 10 minutes. “It allows the muscles and blood vessels to relax,” he explains.
“Most people concentrate on preparation, but they just don’t focus on recovery,” says Hemant Sharma, senior consultant—bone and joint, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon. Dr Sharma says there are some red flags. For instance, terrible tightness in the calf muscles if you curl your toes after a run, or blisters filled with blood.
Extreme pain in the calf muscles on moving the toes could be an indication of compartment syndrome. This is a feeling of increased pressure in the calf, possibly due to internal bleeding. The blood-filled blister, too, is an indicator “that the muscles deep inside are not happy”, adds Dr Sharma. In such cases, medical intervention may be needed.
Delhi-based endocrinologist S.K. Wangnoo of Apollo Hospitals says the body also sees some hormonal changes during exercise. Levels of insulin, stress hormones such as catecholamines (including adrenalin) and cortisol, and growth hormones go up. Most of these changes are geared to assist in the metabolization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins during prolonged workouts, for uninterrupted supply of glucose to the body, and especially the brain. After a half marathon, explains Dr Wangnoo, these changes are “rapidly reversed” to normal in 24-48 hours.
Loss of appetite or disturbed sleep after a marathon could well be due to increased levels of these hormones in the body. Disturbed sleep, for example, could be the result of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. The body has a natural process for bringing these levels to normal, which can take some time, but it’s good to take small, frequent meals in the meantime, says Dr Wangnoo.
Loss of appetite could result from the breakdown of fats in the body during the run. The fats broken down into free fatty acids can produce a sensation of fullness, explains Dr Wangnoo.
Verghese says contrary to common perception, most runners don’t feel famished at the finish line. “Even if you are not feeling particularly hungry, have something like tender coconut cream or a banana,” he says. “After a run, the body is like a sponge. Pile on the carbohydrate, it will soak them up,” adds Verghese, a veteran of 48 marathons.
Some post-race niggles, of course, are easily fixed. Like rehydrating after the race. Vallabhjee recommends putting some sugar or salt into water or drinking a watered-down energy drink. For muscle cramps and stiffness, he says, go for a walk (in the case of a seasoned runner, a light jog) the very next day. A massage could help rub away some of the tightness in the muscles too, Vallabhjee adds.
Verghese says one can help the recovery process by continuing to walk immediately after the race. “Don’t come to a dead stop at the finish line. Walk a little, stretch lightly, don’t just plonk down on the ground after you finish the race,” Verghese says.
Vallabhjee agrees that light stretching is a good idea because “your muscles are really expanded (when you run long distances) and as they’re cooling down they’re contracting, and they’re contracting shorter (leading to a sensation of tightness)”. Vallabhjee says the first 72 hours after a race are crucial for recovery. “So stretch a lot in the days to follow—warm up, go for a walk. The seasoned runners can go for a light 3-5km jog the next day. It will warm the temperature of the body up and then they can stretch and take an ice bath,” says Vallabhjee. And most importantly, he adds, sleep at least 6-8 hours because that’s when the body regenerates tissue and recovers.
Verghese, who is now preparing for the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon held every year on 29 May, says that in this cold Delhi climate, it is also advisable to put on a layer immediately after the race. “Your body is quite warm after the race. Put on a track bottom or tracksuit to protect yourself against a sudden change in temperature,” he adds.
Simple things like drinking water (Vallabhjee recommends sipping warm water if you find it difficult to take room temperature drinks in this weather), getting enough sleep before and after the race, eating regularly, putting on layers, stretching lightly and walking it off can help you recover faster after you complete the 21km milestone this Sunday. So even as you tick all the boxes on how to prepare well for the run, also start thinking about the recovery phase.