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5th October 2017

Ultramarathon recovery: Susie Chan's top tips

You’ve run a long way. A LOOOONG way. Ultramarathons take a toll on your body which play out in different ways to different people. Over the races I have had the full ultra-body-experience from blisters, to bruised toes, and agonisingly sore stair descends, to legs that twitch so forcefully in the night they wake me up. And I’m not even going to mention the unquenchable munchies.

I’ve also woken up post ultra not-too worse for wear, surprised myself at how my legs have survived unscathed, and even (whisper) felt reasonably fresh.

Some of these better times have just come from experience. If we cast our minds back to that very first race (mine was a half marathon) for me the memory of the terrible muscle pain the next day is more potent that the memory of the actual race! However, now running 13.1 miles will be much easier on the legs. The simple reason being is the more experience you have running a distance, the more your body gets used to it.

There are, of course, some things you can do to help recover post-ultra, and some things which will help you recover quicker. Here are my tips:

REFUEL

Getting the food back into you after a run is key. Eating immediately post-run for me is sometimes a struggle. Chocolate milkshakes are a favourite straight after the run. Recovery shakes are also superb. Then there is dinner to think about. Protein helps repair the muscles and carbs will help restore energy to your muscles. But don’t get too bogged down with the nutrition, eat what your body is craving. Spag bol, chicken legs, fruit salad, pizza, chips, or all of the above. Eat whatever it is you fancy: you’ve just run an ultra. Just make sure you eat. In the days after the race try to get your 5 a day in. Lots of fresh fruit and veg, as well as the double whopper cheeseburger you have been thinking about since 7am.

ELEVATE your legs

Legs up the wall is a delight post run. Lie flat on your back near the wall, and rest your legs up above your body. Your feet have taken a pounding and simple elevation will help with any potential swelling and help ease sore feet. Make sure you take your socks off and clean your feet as soon as possible too. Air the toes to help your feet. Sudocrem, the baby nappy rash cream, is my top tip for blisters. Air them and smother in sudocrem.

ICE ICE BABY

Yes, the good old Ice Bath. I’m not sure if it’s been scientifically proven, but if it’s good enough for Jess Ennis, it’s good enough for me. I have taken ice baths after ultras for a while and swear it really helps. You don’t have to submerge your entire body, unless you are some sort of masochist. I put in a bag of ice into cold water, just enough to cover my legs sitting down in a bath. I put on a hoodie, grab a cup of tea and sit in the bath like that. Classy I know, but it sure does make my legs feel better. It’s utterly horrific for about 30 seconds then gradually feels quite nice.

Not up for an ice bath? Get the bubble bath on the go and lob in some Epsom Salts. Or, go for the ice bath first, then warm up with an Epsom Salts hot bath. The double bathing combination of absolute champions.

MOBILISE yourself if you can

Keeping those legs moving every so often will aid recovery. I’m not talking about going out for a 10-mile recovery run here, just try to move every hour rather than sit still for the entire next day. This might just be back and forth to the fridge, or even a short walk outside to show your finishers medal to the neighbours. Moving gently really helps muscle recovery. Unless you are doing a multistage ultra, in which case you’re mobilising yourself extremely well, and this advice can roll over to the day AFTER your race.

MUSCLE manipulation

The above advice can be aided with the likes of gentle massages, a touch of foam rollering, maybe even a sports massage, and if you are really perverse, COMPRESSION GEAR.

REHYDRATE

Being dehydrated can really add to the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) so make sure you drink plently of water and get the electrolytes in too. These are not just for race day. Replacing lost salts and fluid will help your body repair. Apparently drinking loads of beers to celebrate is not going to quite cut the mustard.

SLEEP

This is when the body repairs itself best. Sometimes post-big race, despite being utterly exhausted, I only have broken sleep. You might be one of the lucky ones who can sleep well post ultra. Unless you are running a multistage ultra, in which case EARPLUGS are the best invention in the world overnight. No doubt there will be one person somewhere bedded down near you who snores at 115 decibels.

If you are at home, and family/work life allows, try to have a few early nights post race. You deserve it, and you might as well, because we all know you are thinking about signing up for your next ultra already… you’ll be up early soon enough squeezing in the training runs all over again.

 

Susie Chan is a professional endurance runner, multiple finisher of the Marathon des Sables, and now a member of our XNRG coaching team. Find out more about coaching >

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Empowering you to achieve your ultra-running dream

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