If there’s one tip I can give you going in to the the Broad Street Run on Sunday, it’s this: Don’t stop moving after you cross the finish line. I know, I know, you just completed 10 miles. Congratulations! You should be proud! But if you stop moving as soon as you hit the 10-mile mark, you’re inviting a world of pain (hello, cramps) for your poor, tired, overworked muscles. Trust me—I’ve been there. It ain’t pretty.
Yesterday, I talked with the Rothman Institute’s Matt Austin, a knee surgeon and director of joint replacement services who also happens to be a triathlete and four-time Broad Street finisher. (This year’s race will make five!) He gave me a boatload of great tips for beating soreness post-race and getting your muscles back in shape in no time.
What happens in a person’s body after an intense workout like a 10-mile race?
It’s essentially the same as when you lift weights: You’re breaking down muscle fibers, and that’s where the soreness is coming from. It’s the start of a process that involves inflammation to bring about repair.
What should a person expect in terms of soreness and stiffness? How long will it last?
They should definitely be able to walk. They may have a little difficulty and stiffness when climbing stairs, or if they go to exercise they may feel a bit more sore than usual. But it shouldn’t be excruciating pain. If a person is sore for more than a week, they should make an appointment to see a physician. They could have a stress fracture or damage to the tendons or muscles.
Is there anything you can do ahead of time to help your muscles recover more quickly?
Obviously, the best medicine is prevention. You should have trained well beforehand. Hydration helps, too—water helps flush out lactic acid. For a race of this length, you can take some of those energy gels that have electrolytes and sugar to help keep up the sugar stores in your muscles.
What’s the first thing you should do after you cross the finish line?
It’s best to not sit down. You want to walk around for a few minutes to keep the blood circulating so it doesn’t pool in your legs. You want to consume a sports drink to get the blood sugar levels back up and put the electrolytes back in your body. At Broad Street, they usually give out soft pretzels; you’ll definitely want to eat one, as it helps get your sodium levels back to normal. You’re going to lose a lot of sodium through your sweat. It’s also a good idea to eat a banana to replenish potassium. Skip the free potato chips. Once you’ve had your post-race snacks, you want a meal with a carb and a small amount of protein. This will help restore the sugars in your muscle. It helps with the repair process in that gives your muscles energy again.
What about stretching?
As I said, you’ll want to keep walking after you cross the finish line to keep the blood circulating. Once you feel your body coming back to normal, that’s when it’s okay to stretch out for five or 10 minutes. Use the same stretching exercises you did before the race, focusing on the quads, calves, shins, hips. (Editor’s note: Check out this easy-to-follow stretching routine for some guidance.)
Can I pop a few ibuprofen after the race if I’m feeling sore?
You shouldn’t right away, no. I advise avoiding anti-inflammatories because they can affect your kidneys if you’re not well hydrated. After the race, you want flush your body with water so it can dilute all the waste products your muscles make, like the lactic acid, so your kidneys can better handle it. If you take an anti-inflammatory right after the race, it will challenge your kidney. Wait a few hours until you’re well hydrated.
I love rewarding myself with a massage after a big race. Is that okay?
It’s best to wait a couple of days. Massages break down muscle, and while you’re body is repairing itself from the run, you don’t want to create more soreness. So wait until a day or two after the race.
What’s your opinion on foam rollers?
I think the same advice applies: Wait a day or so to do the foam roller. It’ll be helpful then, but foam rollers act sort of like a massage. It’ll worsen your soreness early on.
When can I start working out again after the race?
By a week, your body should have returned to normal. It’s important not to just go out and start training again. Your body needs rest. A lot of people think rest means lazy, but your body actually needs the rest and recovery. Everybody is different so how long your rest period is depends on your level of fitness. A highly trained athlete can go back to training a few days later. First timers may want to take week or so. If you’re absolutely dying to get back to the gym, try a cross-training activity, like biking or swimming. That way, you’re getting some exercise but straining different muscles. Whatever you do, listen to your body; if you don’t, you can wind up injured.
>> Running Broad Street? Check out our Ultimate Broad Street Guide for everything you need to know to get across the finish line.