Feeling the after-effects of a long training run for two or three days certainly doesn’t mean you’re doing anything “wrong.” Microscopic muscle damage occurs as a result of impact forces sustained in a long run, and the inflammatory response that leads to muscle repair peaks 24 to 72 hours after the run. Your body is working to adapt to the training stimulus, so it’s not surprising to feel a little sore and tired, but this adaptation will make your next long run feel that much easier.
If your training partners are more experienced runners, their bodies may be more adapted to tolerating long runs. You have to give your body adequate rest before and after these runs. If your legs are already tired, the recovery time is a little longer. Sleep is restorative and one of the most effective recovery tools.
How’s your nutrition? Your glycogen stores are replenished in 24 to 48 hours after a long run pretty much regardless of the quality of your diet, but muscle repair requires protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fluid, and TIME. Make sure to eat well in the days after your long run. A high-quality, nutrient-dense nutrition plan will aid your recovery.
Keep moving periodically in the hours and days after your long run. Walking, swimming, and cycling are all ways to increase circulation to your muscles without causing further damage.
Compression garments may also help you bounce back more quickly. Decreased swelling and a decreased perception of muscle soreness have been reported in studies of runners using compression socks in the 24 to 48 hours after a long run.
The fitness you gain from your long run occurs as a result of the adaptations that take place in the days after the run, so listen to your body. You feel tired for a reason. There are various strategies that can help your recovery (sleep, nutrition, easy exercise, compression socks,) but in the end, recovery takes time. Respect the normal recovery process and you’ll come back even stronger in your next run and be well prepared on race day!
Polly de Mille is the coordinator of performance services at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist, and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach.