Recovering from a Very Long Run

off season

How long does it take to recover from a one hundred mile run? As with many things running, it depends. This post applies to not only 100 mile runs but any endurance challenge.

There are a lot of factors that go into recovery time from any endurance event. Recovery can be as short as 3 days or as long as 3 weeks. That being said, there are things which make it go in one direction or  the other.

In my opinion experience is the biggest factor in the length of recovery. The more 100’s you’ve done the more familiar your body is with recovering from them. You teach your body how to rebuild after being strained in that way.

Injury is also going to play a big role in your recovery. If you were injured before the race and went into it without being fully healed, you should allow more time for recovery. Same on the other end, if you were injured during the race, it is obviously going to take you longer to recover.

The type of terrain can impact our ability to recover from a run. Running up and down a mountain takes some people longer to recover from, for others it is running flat for 100 miles that takes longer. If you run up and down, you are able to use different muscle groups throughout the run. This allows some recovery during the run. I’ve heard many times running a flat 100 is harder than a mountain 100 because a flat run uses the same muscle group the entire time.

Extreme heat or cold make it more difficult to recover from a run. You have to work twice as hard to maintain your internal body temperature in high or low temperatures under normal circumstances. Adding in running for twenty-four hours or more and you can easily triple or quadruple the energy output required.  The more you have depleted your body, the longer it takes to recover.

Food lifestyle (I don’t like the word diet) plays a role as well. Your body needs the right nutrients to get back to homeostasis. If you don’t fuel your body well before and after your run, it can’t repair the muscles and tendons you have relied on during your event. Surviving on Oreo’s and potato chips during the run is fine, but before and after are another matter entirely. There are foods that have anti-inflammatory properties which can speed recovery up.

Preparation, as in training, is key in running a 100 and not just to give you the best possible chance of finishing. It also gives you the ability to recover well. It goes back to teaching your body how to recover and rebuild the muscles. If you have completed all of your back to back long runs and run the type of terrain for your race, your body knows what to do.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you three days or three weeks. Take the time you need to recover or you’ll be back on bedrest healing an overuse injury. Sleep in, eat well, and be active at a comfortable level.

Sleep? Who needs it.

sleepy runners colin m. lenton

photo by Colin M. Lenton

I’ve been known to say, “Sleep is overrated,” and “I hate sleeping.”

I truly do wish that sleep was not required by my body. I have so many things I want to do and loosing eight hours a day to sleep seems like such a waste. Just think of all the other things you could do during your life if you didn’t spend at least a quarter of it sleeping.

But the sad reality is, our bodies do need sleep, especially as runners. Sleep is the time when the most healing and building occurs. When the body enters REM sleep, growth hormone is released which is the main component needed to fix those micro tears we cause during strenuous workouts.

Sleep deprivation also impacts your immune system. It drops the number of T-cells, which eventually leads to getting sick. And well, if your sick you probably aren’t running.

Lack of sleep can lead to overtraining and visa versa overtraining can lead to not being able to sleep. And we all know what overtraining leads to: grumpy injured runner.

While your body is sleeping it is also processing, synthesizing and cataloging the details of how to run. It learns the way your muscles and nerves must work together to power each step and the way you need to position your body as it moves through running motions.

How much sleep do you need? The recommendation is eight to nine hours of sleep a day. If you are getting less than six hours, it’s going to hurt your running and your functioning in daily life. Ideally, you should add one minute per mile you run during the week to the usual about of time you spend sleeping. So if you usually sleep seven hours a night and run fifty-five miles a week, you should be sleeping 7 hours and 55 minutes a night.

Another good way to figure out how much sleep your body needs is to take a seven day vacation and sleep until you wake up. Don’t use an alarm clock. During days 1-4 you will be catching up on sleep so just sleep and don’t worry too much about how much you are sleeping. On days 5-7, write down the time you go to be and the time you get up each day and then average the amount of sleep you got each night. This is going to give you the best calculation based upon YOUR body’s needs.

Signs you are not getting enough sleep: you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you need caffeine to get you through the day, falling asleep when your body is at rest like at movies or meetings, or if you are hitting the snooze button more than once.

“Sleep is the most crucial part of my training. If I cannot recover from my training, then there’s no point in training.”

Ryan Hall, Marathoner.

Recovery after a race


When you finish a race your first thought is, “Wow that was great, how can I get out there and do it again as soon as possible?” Right? Yeah, not for most runners. Most want to find a chair and get off their feet. Before you do that, you need to get some food into your body. Your body needs protein to begin rebuilding the micro tears in your muscles. Recovery is a huge part of training and racing.

Many runners don’t feel like eating after a race, you may be nauseous or just not hungry.  However, it’s important for you to get something in within 20 minutes of finishing. Choose something with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. Chocolate milk happens to fit the bill perfectly, but there are other options too. Next, try to get in a full meal within the next couple of hours.

Stretching after you finish will help loosen tight muscles, which will only get tighter as the cool down. You should stretch before your muscles have cooled down or you risk ripping them. Preventing them from tightening up will reduce your stiffness later in the day and the following day. Try to stretch a few times or roll on a foam roller throughout the remainder of the day and the next few days.

How long you should take off from running after a marathon or even a half marathon depends upon your body. More experienced runners need a shorter time to recover than first time marathon runners. Some recommend taking one day off for every mile, 26 days. Some recommend taking off 1 day for every kilometer, which would be 42 days. The other extreme is the ultrarunners who don’t take any time off. Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man, recommends running/hobbling along for two miles the day after a race to get the blood flowing through your muscles again helping them to heal. I think it is helpful to go for a walk if you are not in too much pain. A walk will produce the same effects of moving your blood around without the stress on your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

What I tell runners is wait until the soreness is gone and then start back slow. Soreness can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Once the soreness is gone, go out for an easy two to three mile run. If your legs feel heavy, give it another two days. Heavy legs mean your body has not recovered from the effort. You can also check your resting heart rate. If it is elevated, your body has not fully recovered. Going out before your body has had a chance to recover puts you at risk of injury. It may be easier on your body to come back with your cross training before actually running.

After a hard race, I take three full days of rest then I start the active recovery process with cycling and swimming. I don’t go out with full effort just easy miles or laps. A week after the race, I go for a short easy run. The following week, I keep things light and easy. By the third week I can return to my pre-race mileage.

Recovery takes too long!

The knee is healing slower than I would like, which would be instantly. Removing my ability to run long distance last weekend has impacted other area’s of my world. Most significantly, my sleep. I can’t sleep a lick when I don’t run distance. I’m just not tired. My body is used to putting out enough energy to keep me going for 70 miles a week, six hours on the bike, and two hours in the pool.

I’ve had to reduce that to almost zero other than the swimming. And now, the pool is closed this week so they can put the top back on!

I’m going to have to swim at the pool near my office over lunch just to keep the energy levels down so I can get some type of sleep.

I took four days off running. The swelling was nearly gone by Wednesday and I checked with a orthopedic doctor about running. He told me as long as there is no pain while running, I should be fine. So, on Wednesday evening, I ran just a little to see how it would feel. I walked three miles and ran another 1.5 miles. No pain. Excellent.

On Thursday morning, I ran with Spongebunny and J$, we did nine miles easy. There was no additional swelling later that day or on Friday.

I decided that I would take it easy over the weekend. Saturday I went out for 23 miles. My knee didn’t hurt during the run. I did notice that when going down even a mild incline there was pressure on the outside bottom of my knee. I tried to avoid downhill not wanting to aggravate anything that was still inflamed.

On Sunday I went out for an easy ten miles and kept it very flat. There was no pain during the run. I did notice that there was some pressure in the same spot as yesterday. I’ll will continue to take it easy until things feel normal once again.

Red Rock Relay is next Friday (September 12) and Saturday. I’m running 36 miles of the race and have significant downhill. If my knee is not totally better by then I may have to switch out some runs with my other runners. I’m sure they will be terribly upset about not running uphill! Ha, Ha, Ha.


And she’s down for the count.

down for the count

Yep, I asked for it. Fell again. I believe this week is cursed. One year ago, I stepped off an edge in the newly paved road and rolled my right ankle. It was sprained pretty badly and I didn’t take time off because I was training for Pony Express 100 and had the Red Rock Relay with my team the week after rolling it.

I’m not sure taking time off last year would have allowed me to complete Pony Express 100, because of the type of injury, high ankle sprain, which takes three months or so to heal. I made the conscious decision to continue to run on it because I was assigned to run 55 miles of the Red Rock and no one could pick up my miles one week before the race.

Admitting to being injured is difficult for me. Ask my team. I’m an over achiever and to not be able to do what I say I’m going to do is soul crushing.

I went out for my Saturday long run, 27 miles. At mile one, along the paved trail there is a road crossing and the trail does not line up well on the other side. My right foot came down just off the paved edge and I fell to the right, but during the fall I brought my left knee down and it hit the edge of the pavement. Some not so lady like words flew from my mouth.

I sat there in the dirt picking the gravel out of my knee in the dim light. I decided to finish the loop I was on and see how it felt. I knew I had hit it right on the kneecap. I didn’t think it was fractured, but that thought was definitely in the back of my mind.

I finished seven miles and decided that it was best to call it a day. I iced it at home. It’s a little swollen. If it turns awesome purples and blues I post pictures. I was able to run on the mini tramp without pain later that afternoon (it’s a sickness okay).

J$ came over to check on me at Swiss Miss’s request. See they know how I am about these injuries. I’m sure it’s not enjoyable to watch your friend run 55 miles in pain and they don’t want to repeat that experience.

J$ and I rode our bikes on the trainers, which gave me the option of stopping any time it hurt and to reduce the pressure to my knee by lowering the resistance on my tire.

Sunday was supposed to be a 20 mile run. The knee felt tons better, but was still swollen a little so I decided a rest day was in order. Monday is a swim/bike day. My next run is Tuesday, 9 miles of speed work. I may cut the speed out, but I will give the run ago.

Falling, as I said before, is a part of running and cycling. But to fall twice in one week is really irksome. Especially, because the fall has now forced me to take time off. I will listen to my body and let it heal using the RICE method, but I’m not at all happy about it.


And the Battle begins

mind vs body

Body draws a double-handed broadsword from its scabbard. Mind secures itself with a wide staggered stance and raises the circular shield to shoulder height.

“You must rest, you have a half ironman in five days,” Mind calls from around the shield.

“Yeah, but we got this. Half Ironman pshhhht. Whatever.” Body hefts the six-foot silver blade.

“You want to do well don’t you?” my mind asks, crouching low in preparation.

“Well yeah, we’re going to freaking crush it!” The blade arches back and up.

Mind rolls eyes.  “Sure you are.” Mind grunts as the sword crashes into the shield. Body staggers thrown off balance because of the weight of the swinging sword.

“What? This little half iron ain’t got shit on a 100 miler or even a 50!” Body says taking a few steps toward Mind.

Mind stands straight, drops the shield down, and looks Body up and down. “How many times you think you can swing that thing before you’re exhausted at this point in your training?”

Body again hefts the blade back and up over its head and it comes banging down upon Mind who is once again cowering beneath the shield.

“And what, Ms. Smarty pants, do you want us to do with all this extra energy?” Body asks. The sword tip rests on the ground.

“Conserve it and let it loose at Vikingman,” Mind says firmly standing its ground.

Body shakes its head and looks at the ground. “We won’t be sleeping by Wednesday if we do that. And my leg is going to bounce us into next week.”

“Now listen here, you fool. You ran 25 miles Saturday and 20 miles Sunday. You need to rest.” Mind is frustrated. “You’ve run races when you haven’t properly rested. They don’t go well.”

Mind looks at the sword still in Body’s hand. Body looks down at it too.

“How about, I swim Monday, run easy Tuesday, and ride on Wednesday?” Body says.

Mind rubs its pointy chin and nods its head. “That sounds reasonable. But can you stick to that? be honest now.”

“Alright. Alright. I’ll probably run on Thursday too but easy short five miles that’s it. I promise.”

Mind narrows its cool steel grey eyes. Body drops the broadsword and extends its hand to seal the agreement.

Mind reaches out.

Body quickly retracts its hand laughing, “Na, I’m just kidding.”

Mind drops the shield and dashes forward tackling Body. They land with a harrumph and dust flying into the air around them. Mind shakes Body by the shoulders, flips him over, and wrenches Body’s arm behind its back.

“Mercy!” Body squeaks out.

“Do you agree to the terms?” Mind asks calm.

“Cough. Cough. I agree.”

Slowly, Mind allowed body to get up. Mind wondered why it always had to overcome Body whether it was because Body wanted to quit or wanted to push when it just wasn’t the right time… yet.

Building and Rest Go Hand in Hand

I’m going stir crazy as I taper for Salt Flats 100. All my extra energy, which usually gets spent during my runs is building. My miles will continue to come down until I’m taking three full days off of running before my race. My strength training will stop ten days before the race because it takes about ten days to see benefits from any strength training. Taking time to rest is just as important as building your miles. Without the rest, building strength does not happen. As we push our bodies to go farther and father distances building up to that goal race, our muscles, ligaments, and tendons get micro tears in them. These tears are not necessarily a bad thing, because as they heal we become stronger. But, we have to let them heal.

There are some basic golden rules about building miles, which all runners should know and look for when they are deciding on a training program. The first is never build more than 10% a week. So for example if you’re running three five mile runs a week, you can safely add 1.5 miles the next week. The second golden rule is to reduce your miles by 20-25% every fourth week. If you’re a more injury prone runner, you can change that down week to an elliptical week or a pool-running week.

Pool running is great for maintaining your fitness when you are injured and for letting your body really rest from the impact of running. Pool running is as difficult as you want make it. You get into the deep end of the pool with a floatation belt (you can do it without one, but it is much harder). Most pools have floatation belts you can borrow. Once you’re in the water, you want to maintain an upright position as you move your arms and legs as you would if you were running out on the road. Even when you are running hard in the pool, you should not be moving forward much. If you are, you are leaning too far forward. On a rest week, you just want to take things kinda easy and run for the time it would take you to run your reduced mileage for the day.

Overtraining is an issue many runners struggle with. How do you know if you are overtraining? You feel sluggish, your legs feel like lead even after an easy run, you heart rate is elevated when you are at rest, and your friends and family tell you that you’re being grumpy all the time. Overtraining means you are not respecting your body’s limits, you’re not listening to your body, and you are dancing with the injury demon, who is waiting for the most inconvenient time to strike. If you find yourself in this situation, take two to three days off totally and then see how you feel. If you are okay, start with a reduced week back to running and then make sure you are following all the rules.

Your taper is an extended rest period before a race. It needs to be long enough to allow your body to fully recover, but short enough that you will not lose any aerobic fitness. For a marathon, your taper is generally two weeks long. You can use the same type of taper for a 50k. For a 50 or 100 mile race, your taper is three weeks. Many runners get antsy with the extra energy, but it is important kill the urge to go out and run or do some other physically taxing activity. The idea is for you to be at 100% on race day, so nothing will stand in the way of that metal being hung around your neck or the belt buckle being placed in your hand as you scorch across the finish line.

Enjoy a new book, lay in the hammock for a little longer, take the bubble bath you haven’t had time for, or go to the movie and eat a whole tub of popcorn!