Often times as our training ramps up towards a goal race, recovery falls on to the back burner. With more time devoted to longer runs, important things like stretching and foam rolling get squeezed out of our schedule. Often times bringing the onset of injury.
Maintaining a recovery routine can make the difference between getting to the starting line healthy and not getting there at all.
If there’s anyone who knows about the importance of recovery it is my friend, elite runner, Tina Muir. Tina is an elite runner with Saucony, she is also author of the blog Fuel your Future with Tina. She has a half marathon PR of 1:13 and finished as the seventh woman at the London Marathon in a time of 2:41. And this fall she broke the tape as the winner of the Army 10 Miler. I’ve had the privilege of running with Tina and am thrilled to be able to talk to her today about the importance of both active recovery and creating a recovery routine.
Why is making time for recovery important for you?
I actually would word it differently, what is more important than recovery? Honestly, NOTHING! The biggest mistakes I have made in the past, all my injuries, setbacks, have been because I did not give my body the time to recover correctly. As runners (of all levels!) we are so desperate to be successful, that we just want to go, go, go all the time, but it takes a stronger person to realize that recovering is what actually makes all the difference in whether you reach your goals. It is easy to go hard, but it takes a lot of confidence and bravery to run easy.
What does your recovery routine look like?
It has changed over the years, and is constantly evolving as I learn my body better, and find what works for me. I think a lot of recovery comes down to truly listening to your body and what it asks for, if your gut tells you that you are not recovered and you need to push a workout back a day, DO IT. That is part of my routine, listening for that little voice saying “I don’t know about this” and believing in it, especially if you have a little niggle somewhere that could turn into a full blown injury.
As for the actual components I use. After each run, I either stretch or use a Roll Recovery and pvc pipe to roll (same as a foam roller, just harder). As much as I intend to do both every day, being totally honest, I do not, but it is in my intentions for this year.
I get a one hour full body massage once a week, and see my chiropractor, Dr. Mike Sullivan very regularly for graston and active release. However, both of those are also preventative, by getting those therapy sessions when you feel like you do not need to, you are warding off other injuries before they even turn into anything. I do pay for those myself, and I honestly believe they are critical to my success and staying healthy. Sometimes I get tempted to cancel the appointments if nothing is wrong or hurting, but I know they play a bigger role in staying healthy than I realize.
EnduroPacks is a big part of my recovery routine, I take the four elements of their recovery pack every day, and I honestly believe it makes a difference. I have a friend who lets me use their Normatec compression boots, which are not exactly an everyday item, but something I intend to splurge on sometime in the next few years as they make such a big difference (and make you feel like an astronaut!).
The final component of recovery, which is probably the most important, but the part I am worst at is sleep. I have always been a bad sleeper, but I do everything I possibly can to help my body get as much of it as I can. This is something I am working on, and something that should be a priority in every runner’s life, above everything else.
What foam rollers or self-massage tools would your recommend?
I love to use my PVC pipe for foam rolling, but I also have my Roll Recovery, which is fantastic for getting in those larger muscles of the quads and hamstrings. I do use a stiff stick too. Many people have heard of the stick, but the stiff stick really allows you to get into those muscles to dig out the junk, and I would say it is well worth the extra money. Using a combination of those three, I feel like I hit all the areas.
What are your favorite stretches to do post-run?
I always default to the calf stretch against a wall or curb, even though I have been told that is actually not the best one for you! I do love the feeling of the piriformis stretch, but to be totally honest, I am not as great at remembering to do it. For me, I target the calf muscles, hips and glutes the most, as those are the areas I often feel tightest in, but I would say my favorite stretch is the hip flexor stretch, making sure to not lean forward, but keep a straight line all the way down my body of the side I am stretching. I find that hits the hip flexor better than if you push your hips further forward.
Are massages part of your recovery routine? If so, how often do you get them?
Yes! A HUGE part of my recovery routine. I get a full body massage once a week with my wonderful therapist Karen. My body has got to point now where it is so used to her, that she said my muscles feel like butter within a few minutes as they know what is coming, and no longer tighten up when she starts to work on them. I also get graston and active release (as well as general adjustments) from my chiropractor, Dr. Mike Sullivan around once a week. I pay my own money for these appointments, and I would say they are worth every penny.
Recovery isn’t just foam rolling and stretching. Talk a little bit about some of the active recovery you do, like recovery paced runs. How often do you run easy and how does that pace compare to your race pace?
This is, in my opinion, the biggest mistake runners make. I run my recovery runs almost 3 minutes per mile slower than my marathon pace. [Underlined and bolded because what Tina is saying is so important!] I run so easy that I can breathe through my nose the entire way, look around and see what there is to see, and finish feeling like I could do that run all over again.
We think that everyone is staring at us thinking how slow we are (yes, I do too), when in fact, people are wishing they were out there running too! And if they are not a runner, chances are they did not even notice you! By taking your non-workout days so easy you can have a full conversation, you are giving your body lots of nice, fresh blood to flush out the bad stuff, and giving it time to process the tough workout. If runners listen to one piece of advice from this article, I hope it is that they will take their easy runs as slow as they can….and then slow it down some more…..then maybe you are close to the pace you should be 🙂
You are not going to prove anything on your easy days, save it for when it matters, on race day, but if you run too fast on your easy days, you will never get the chance to show it.
How does food and hydration play a part in your recovery? Are there certain foods you aim to eat after a run or workout? What about hydration, do you drink a specific amount after a tough run or workout?
Both are critical! I take my EnduroPacks multivitamin and L-glutamine for recovery, as well as using the electrolyte spray in my water to replenish electrolytes. I also LOVE Body Armor for a refreshing post workout drink.
When it comes to food, I cannot even begin to describe how important it is to refuel. So many runners either put off their eating, or get distracted, but I make sure I eat within 45 minutes of my run; preferably a full meal of protein, fats, and carbs, but if not, I make sure to have some kind of recovery bar or drink, and then get that full meal within 2 hours. Otherwise you might as well have not even done the workout.
As for specific foods, I LOVE beets and sweet potatoes, which are both great recovery foods, as is tart cherry juice, which I drink once a day. Most of the time I love to have pancakes after a tough workout, and this hearty recovery pancakes recipe is my go to, especially after hard long runs.
If someone was pressed for time and had just five minutes to squeeze in recovery after their run, what would you recommend they do?
Hmmm how can I maximize this time? Well, after your very easy run where you had a full conversation with a friend to keep it slow enough, and while your full-meal is cooking to enjoy after the 5 minutes, use a combination of foam rolling and stretching to spend at least 30 seconds on each area of your body (however, if one area in particular was sore or tight, spend the time on that instead). During this time, be confirming with yourself that you are going to get to bed early tonight to get a good night’s sleep. At the end of the 5 minutes, you can eat your meal, then head off to get a massage 😉 I think I cheated a little with that question, but in all seriousness, I would use the foam roller and stretching combination to loosen up those tight areas 🙂
There’s so much that we can take away from Tina’s experience as an elite. Her suggestions have changed the way I run and recovery and I’ve seen some really positive results and I know that if you consider some of her advice you’ll feel the same way.
Want to follow Tina’s running journey? You can find her here:
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