Recovering from an Ultra Marathon

In the world of ultra marathon training, it amazes me just how fit we get, and conversely, how easy it is to lose it as well. Having been for a very long run at the weekend, it got me thinking about recovery and the steps we need to take to recover from our runs. I must admit, I haven’t felt like this in years, so hardened I think my legs were. It must be the most amount of time I’ve had off running completely for nearly two years. So in terms of recovery, what are some of the basic steps we need to take? This got me thinking about all the things I didn’t do yesterday!

It's good for you right?
It’s good for you right?
  1. Drinking post run

Unfortunately I don’t mean grab a beer. Although I’ve done this a few times and hey, you’re getting carbs in right? I know I often make the mistake of only bringing enough water with me for my run. By the time I’m back at the car again, I’m all out and it’s a case of waiting until I get to the next servo. The quicker it goes in, the quicker we can help the recovery process. A good rule of thumb is to drink until our pee is clear again, while also remembering that it’s important to replenish electrolytes too.

  1. Keep Moving

While the temptation after an ultra marathon or big training run is to want to sit down, put the feet up and relax, your muscles won’t thank you in the morning after. It goes against everything we want to do, but keeping some form of movement straight after the run is important to ease the muscles down, particularly if you’ve just completed a very intensive session or race. A great way to make sure this happens is to have kids. Particularly those under the age of 5. They won’t let you sit down when you arrive home smashed from your run. You have to move and keep them entertained. If you don’t have kids, get your partner to nag you to do the house chores. If you don’t have a partner or kids, well you’re screwed!

  1. Eat, eat, eat

See point one above. I know I can be really bad at refueling post run. To get a good mountain ultra marathon run in, I usually drive anything up to 2hrs from home, and once I’m finished, it’s normally a race to the servo to grab some food. At times, I’ll simply wait until I get home, by which stage, I’m ravenous and my body is literally eating itself from the inside. Most of the time, when we’ve finished that big race or run, we’re low on sugar as we’re simply not putting enough calories in for the amount that we’re expending.

The holy grail of recovery
The holy grail of recovery

I’m a big fan of a chocolate milkshake post run and have long thought that all this crap peddled by the manufacturers of sports drinks was exactly that… utter tosh built around a hype of marketing to get us to by what is effectively unrefined sugar. So it was nice recently to be proven right. But while its good to get the ‘crap sugar’ in immediately after a run. An hour or two after the run or race, it’s equally important to get some good stuff into the body, such as low GI grains, brown bread, pasta or rice along with lots of veggies and green stuff. To be honest, I’ve always gone with what my body has craved and that has always been a choc milkshake immediately after and then lots of good veggies and fruit a few hours after.

  1. Sleep
This is how I look on a fairly regular basis at work
This is how I look on a fairly regular basis at work

Ultra runners love sleep, mainly because we push our bodies to such a limit that we’re too exhausted to stay up all night and party. Sleep is massively important to recovery as it’s the time when our body is allowed to repair all the damage we’ve just done in the past few hours or maybe day if you’ve just run a 100 miler. Eight hours is the desired preference, but as someone who has kids knows, that is just a distant pipe dream now.

  1. Massage or foam roller

Unless your better half is a masseur/masseuse, this one can be out of the reaches of most people. A post race or training massage can help to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery, again by keeping the muscles active and moving. But if you haven’t got access to a good masseur/masseuse, then using the foam roller can be very beneficial too, if not very painful to begin with!

  1. The recovery session
It's debatable as to whether it helps, but if you feel as though it does then no reason why you shouldn't
It’s debatable as to whether it helps, but if you feel as though it does then no reason why you shouldn’t

Often the last thing we want to do after a big race or run is to head back out there again. You’re walking as though you have lead boots on and your thighs resemble concrete blocks. But, ff you can run the day after, then a very easy run can really help aid the recovery process. It doesn’t need to be a big run – I often see on Strava, people noting ‘recovery’ runs which resemble a half-marathon race. That’s not recovery, that’s backing up… there’s a huge difference. Recovery is the time to just chill and smell the roses, with none of the pressure of pushing hard. It’s our excuse to go slow.

  1. Hot bath or ice bath?

There’s a bit of conjecture over these two. While a hot bath after a hard ultra marathon or session is probably one of the first things you want to, it can delay the recovery, causing the muscles to inflame further. About ten years ago, the trend for using ice baths surged among professional athletes, but the jury is still out on whether they do any good or not. On a personal level, I don’t do it, but I have found that sticking the legs in a cold shower does make me feel better. There’s no science behind this at all, it’s based on what feels right for me – a bit like wanting a choccy milkshake post run.

So how many of those did I do yesterday? Probably one, which is keep active, mainly because I’m forced by my three-year old twin girls to be active and do stuff. The rest I’m still working on, but I hope that gives you a good checklist of things to think about post race / run.




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Majell Backhausen
Majell (pronounced My-al) is an Australian International Ultra Distance Runner who wants to explore the world, meet great people and prove himself in the mountains.

You’ll either find him behind a BIG plate of veggies, running in the mountains, talking about a positive life or cycling around town.

2 thoughts on “Recovering from an Ultra Marathon

  1. Dan I know what you mean, I had to take a 3 month break from running and now can hardly manage 5k without walking. its going to be a long road back

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