Running a downhill race can create a tremendous amount of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) due to the increased eccentric muscle contractions, especially in the quadriceps muscles. So what are some tips on how best to recover from these downhill efforts?
Obviously, an important aspect of minimizing soreness after downhill racing is how you train before, incorporating some downhill efforts into your program well before the race. And, resisting the temptation during the race to over-stride is important since long over-reaching strides definitely increase the pounding forces through the leg muscles and joints.
Following your downhill races, downhill training, or long runs consider implementing some of the following strategies:
ICE BATH: Dump all the ice from your freezer into your bathtub and add cold water. Grit your teeth and jump on in for 15 minutes. This cold therapy helps reduce swelling and promotes a faster recovery from all the micro-trauma caused by the downhill effort.
COMPRESSION SLEEVES: There is some good research evidence that compression sleeves can be very beneficial following long or hard efforts where micro-trauma to the muscles and soft tissues occurs. This is especially true for those who are heading off to a job where you sit or stand for a prolonged period. Consider wearing the sleeves for the rest of the day and even the following day. The compression reduces fluid build-up and swelling in the legs and likely helps the muscles to recover faster.
AQUA EXERCISE: A research article in the Journal of Sports Sciences strongly advocates walking, jogging or jumping in a pool to help recover from strenuous athletic events. In their study, the use of water exercise after muscle-damaging exercise significantly decreased muscle soreness and stiffness, and it promoted recovery of muscle power.
MASSAGE: A well trained massage therapist can assist greatly in your recovery from a downhill event. Techniques such as palmar flushing, myofascial release, and skin rolling can be very beneficial for increasing circulation and decreasing muscle tension and soreness. Having a massage session 2-3 days after the race is ideal. Once the initial acute soreness has diminished most runners benefit greatly from deep tissue massage techniques.
FOAM ROLLER SELF-MASSAGE: 2-3 days after downhill is often when the DOMS becomes apparent. If tolerable, using a foam roller to roll out the hip and thigh muscles can be beneficial. If you feel too tender initially, you can place the foam roller on top of your bed to lessen the pressure. Another popular self-massage tool is “The Stick”.
NUTRITION: Be sure to sip on an electrolyte drink for the remainder of the race day and into the next. Also, you should plan on eating more than your usual protein consumption for the next several meals to assist in muscle rebuilding.
ELEVATION: Another option to assist with managing the swelling in the legs associated with micro-trauma is to elevate the legs for 10-15 minutes twice a day following the race. Be sure that the feet and legs are higher than the heart and let gravity do the work.
MODIFIED TRAINING: Common sense should prevail after a hard downhill race. Consider waiting a number of days before attempting running again and instead use your normal training time for other “recovery strategies” or even just light bike rides or walks on flat ground.
As with every runner there are some options that seem to work better than others. Experiment with what strategies work best for you, then commit to the best plan for you.
Get Better. Be Your Best. Run On.
Good Luck to all those participating in the Equinox half and 5 mile race this weekend! See you at the finish line!