Recovering From Hard Races

Unnatural damage requires an unnatural level of support and therapeutic practices for recovery. When it comes to recovering from hard races, your best bet is to throw all you can at it!

  1. Enter the race as healthy as possible.

    I recently coached a friend for his first marathon with a short runway—about 10 weeks. Needless to say, he was “trashed” afterwards. But he made it in just over 4-hours and had caught the bug! Now, with his very minimalist training plan, he continues to run a marathon per month and keeps beating his personal record by at least a minute or two. Humorously, his body feels so strangely good after each race that he’s been wondering if something is wrong with him.

    Entering a race with training that maximizes structural, metabolic, and respiratory efficiency, while reducing both the trauma to soft tissues and excess fatigue to the nervous system, is the way to exit the race feeling fine by about Tuesday.

  2. Ensure adequate electrolyte intake pre-race, during, and post-race.

    In addition to smart training, a half teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water each morning throughout your training, then a little bit extra leading into a big race or event, is a great protocol to support your body’s ability to buffer lactic acid. Furthermore, you can really optimize your body’s electrolyte status with regular consumption of sea minerals, or by simply adding pink salt to all your purified water—especially during a race.

  3. Cold exposure. Cold exposure halts a lot of the inflammation in the legs and entire body following a tough race. Since so many races are in the middle of nowhere, plan on filling your hotel room bathtub with ice and at least giving your legs a soak. If possible, find a Russian Bathhouse or Cryo Lab for full-body cold immersion. If you have access to a sauna, even better! On recovery days, I go back and forth between my Sunlighten infrared sauna (for 5-10 minutes) to the ice bath (for 1-2 minutes) for about an hour.

  4. Sports massage, recovery boots, or foam rolling. I really like Normatec recovery boots to help flush the legs of toxins and acidity following hard bouts. Of course, hands-on therapy from a professional is the optimal choice after a hard race, but that’s not often possible or convenient for athletes within an hour of crossing the finish line. The boots travel reasonably well and the quicker you can get them on, the better. These are worth the investment for the Type-A endurance athlete running hard races with some frequency. If you are running a single or just a handful of races, or simply want to opt for the “Poor Man’s Normatecs,” just go with a foam roller.

  5. Soak up the Magnesium. Topical magnesium oils or lotions, or even magnesium bath salts are a great hack for reviving a physically run-down body. Magnesium helps improve energy production and reduces muscle damage. In topical form, it also allows for higher doses without the GI distress that often comes from oral consumption.

  6. Self-massage. After a hard race, the body is truly recovering from trauma. With trauma, whether it’s physical or emotional, the benefits of human touch are profound—even if that touch is your own. As a self-care practice, I will often sit in my infrared sauna or stand in a hot shower and give much of my body a massage. I focus on the upper traps, the hands and feet, the gut, and the lower legs and will often use some coconut oil to improve the depth I can achieve.

  7. Nutrition. Consuming adequate carbohydrates and high-quality protein in the hours following a hard race are essential to kickstarting your recovery. This will support the replenishment of glycogen stores and kickstart protein synthesis to repair your beatdown muscles. In addition to the macronutrients required after a hard race, I would double-down on many of the supplements I speak about with some frequency, such as curcumin, vitamin D, and colostrum. On occasion, and when I’m near a high-quality west coast grocer, I’ll even opt for this Raw Milk Kefir Golden Milk.

  8. Movement. Whenever there’s a bodily injury, which is exactly what “feeling trashed” is (just low-grade and widespread as opposed to localized and highly painful), movement is key to maintaining blood flow and flushing the area. Even after a hard race, going against what your brain is telling you and walking around as much as possible in minimalist shoes will have you back in action faster than the couch will.

Keep in mind that part and parcel with recovery is beginning with the end in mind: proper nutrition and training pre-race is paramount to your post-race recovery. I hope my post-race recovery protocol helps you in your next race—big or small!


Joe DiStefano

Joe has been a wellness and performance coach for over 15 years. His teachings focus on engraining profound mindset shifts, giving individuals the courage and the tools to align their actions with their objectives throughout daily life.