Whether you’ve just finished one of your regular runs, or you’ve just finished a race, there should definitely be a couple post-race things on your to-do list before you go about the rest of your day.
It’s easy to bathe in the glow of finishing a run, but you also need to think about recovery. You can speed up this process by completing several simple tasks that will get you back on the road or trail quickly and less painfully.
We’ve got you covered with some must-dos as well as some fun, optional activities once you’ve completed the essentials!
My dad had a phrase when I was growing up— “If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.” This definitely pertains to running.
Before you can do all the fun things after a run like hanging out with friends, you need to make sure that you’ve completed all the items on this list of must-dos!
Cool Down with an Easy Walk
We’ve all been there. You finish a long (or even short!) run, and you’re ready to just hit the couch and watch some Netflix, read a book, leave for work or basically do anything except cool down.
The reality is that cooling down is essential if you want to improve your performance and prevent injury. You will lower your heart rate during your cool down, relaxing your muscles and helping your body to eliminate lactic acid faster. It will also repair micro-injuries.
Don’t skimp on the cool down if you want to become better as a runner! Even if it’s only 5 minutes, it’s worth the extra time.
Hydrate with Water and/or a Recovery Drink
No matter how easy your workout was, you need to hydrate. Make sure that you’ve replenished the fluid that you’ve lost from sweating. Depending on how challenging your workout was, you may also want to consider a recovery drink that replaces calories and electrolytes.
A sports drink like Gatorade or Tailwind for electrolytes, or a milk-based recovery drink for protein, will give your body what it needs if you’ve run for a long time or run really hard.
Just drinking water works great after short and easy runs, but may backfire after harder efforts. You need to replace the electrolytes you’ve lost while running, and water will only dilute the electrolytes you currently have.
Perform Some Dynamic Stretching
Just as dynamic stretching is important before you run to help your muscles get warmed up, stretching after your run is important to help your muscles recover. If you’ve had a really challenging run, don’t push yourself too hard on the stretches. Just complete a couple.
No matter what kind of run you just finished, you want to make sure that you don’t stretch too deeply. You should not feel pain. Instead, ease into your stretches, breathe deeply, and focus on keeping your body in full control. You want your muscles to relax.
Refuel with Something to Eat
Your body has lost a lot of calories during your run, so you need to make sure that you replenish them. This is especially important if you’ve run a long distance, exerted a lot of effort, or both.
While a doughnut or cookie might seem very tasty and satisfy your body’s need for quick calories, you should avoid these immediately after your run. Instead, opt for a banana or a cup of mandarin oranges, nuts or milk for protein, and maybe some pretzels or other salty food to replace the electrolytes that you’ve lost.
Take an Ice Bath/Ice Your Feet
I ice my feet after every run that I complete. This is my standard procedure for longer runs, but I even do it for shorter runs to help prevent injuries. It’s definitely pretty cold and uncomfortable, but my feet always feel better after I do it.
If you’re feeling pretty hardcore, you might consider an ice bath like some trainers that I know. I personally can’t stand the idea of my whole body being in that water that cold, but it is common practice among elite athletes.
In either case, exposing your feet to ice assists in constricting blood vessels and muscles fibers, meaning that you’ll experience reduced swelling and decreased soreness.
But remember to ice your feet for no more than 10-20 minutes! You don’t want to risk frostbite.
Foam Roll Any Aching Muscles
Just as you need a pair of good running shoes, every runner should have a foam roller. You’ll be able to ease sore areas while help speeding up muscle recovery. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Sports massage is a well-known and widely practiced recovery technique, but people like you and me don’t have regular access to massage. A foam roller provides a close alternative. By rolling out sore areas, you are breaking up the network of tissue that connects your muscles, known as fascia. This allows your muscles to recover more quickly, increases your range of motion, and improves your flexibility.
It can be a little awkward to figure out at first—and if you’re really tight, the foam roller can hurt a little bit—but the relief that you feel after you’ve rolled out your muscles is totally worth it.
See the best foam rollers for runners here.
Fun, Optional Activities
These are the fun activities that you don’t have to do after every run (and probably won’t for some of them!), but they are really enjoyable when you can.
As a side note, if you find yourself struggling to find joy in your running, try to make sure that you reward yourself after you complete your run for the day. What motivates you will vary by person, but pick a fun activity that you personally will love.
My sister enjoys extra time to read, whereas my brother-in-law might give himself some time to work on creating barbecue sauce or working on different mixed drinks. These things, even though they seem not to be running-related, can still be a part of your exercise routine. Figure out what you’ll love!
Post Your Run to Strava or Other Social Platforms
If you have social media or use Strava, you may want to post your run stats, especially if it was an amazing workout. This can be a great way to receive support and encouragement. I’ve found the running community to be incredibly uplifting.
I personally don’t have social media, but I normally send my run info to my immediate family (most of whom are not runners) and several friends who are runners. They are great about giving me advice about how I can do better next time or cheering me on if it was a really awesome run.
Enjoy a Nice Shower/Bath
This is probably my favorite post-run activity. Whenever I’m going through a challenging mile, I always tell myself that I have a nice, hot shower to look forward to when I’m finished running. That definitely keeps me going.
Hot showers are great for muscle relaxation, as they will relieve the tension in your body and assist in removing muscle fatigue. Spending just 15-20 minutes in a hot shower or bath will increased blood flow to your muscle and disperse built up lactic acid, which is very helpful for runners!
Go Out for Drinks/Food After a Run with Friends
Chances are that this point is probably what you consider to be the best thing to do after a run. After all, I know many people who run because they like food! And who doesn’t want to celebrate after running 5, 10, 13.1, or 26.2 miles with some food and/or adult beverages?
You’ve put your body through a lot of stress. You deserve to be rewarded, right? The answer is “all in moderation.” As fun as it is to go out for drinks and food after running with friends, make sure that your consumption isn’t going against your physical health goals.
If you find yourself gaining instead of losing weight with running, or eating a lot of unhealthy food even when you told yourself you weren’t going to, you might want to forego the after-run party with friends.
But if it’s an occasional pleasure—by all means celebrate after really long runs or any type of race!—then getting drinks and food with friends is a great idea.
I celebrated with Panera after my first half with my friends and family who had come to watch me, and it was an excellent opportunity to catch up and get to spend some time with them.
But I picked an item off the menu I probably normally wouldn’t have gotten but would help me in replenishing my nutrients. If you’re willing to do something like that if needed, chances are getting food with friends regularly after runs won’t be such a big deal.