The Ultimate Guide to Ultramarathon Recovery

Completing an ultramarathon is an enormous feat, but the recovery process is just as crucial. Proper rest and regeneration after long efforts enhances adaptation, reduces injury risk, and sets you up for your next big run. This guide covers every aspect of recovering from ultramarathons and returning to training stronger.

Phase 1: Immediate Post-Race Recovery

The moments right after crossing the finish line mark the start of your recovery. Here are the key steps to take:

Keep moving at a slow pace. Walk for 10-15 minutes to flush waste products from your muscles and prevent blood pooling. This active movement is preferable to sitting down abruptly.

Change into warm, dry clothing. Even if it’s warm out, your sweaty race clothes can make you cold. Dry clothes help you regulate body temperature.

Fuel your body. Eat a mix of carbs, protein, fat, and fluids to kickstart the replenishment of depleted energy stores. Real food is preferable to supplements initially.

Rehydrate. Start drinking fluids, especially electrolyte drinks like sports drinks or coconut water. Dehydration is extremely common after ultras.

Get off your feet. Don’t stand for prolonged periods. Find a place to sit or lay down with your legs elevated above heart level to improve circulation.

Assess your condition. Check for any serious medical issues like extreme nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, signs of heat illness, etc. Seek medical help if concerned.

The initial 30-60 minutes after finishing require focus on active recovery movement, refuelling, rehydration, and getting horizontal.

Phase 2: The First 1-2 Hours After Finishing

After taking the urgent post-race actions, dedicate the next few hours to purposeful recovery:

The hours immediately after the race are all about facilitating active recovery and reducing inflammation before it sets in.

Phase 3: The First 1-3 Days After the Race

The days following your ultramarathon are about letting your body rest and normalize:

The days after the big effort avoid strenuous training to prevent digging a deeper hole.

Phase 4: The First Week After the Race

The goal of the first week is to take it easy while limiting muscle atrophy.

The temptation to jump back into serious training is strong, but restraint allows full recovery.

Phase 5: Weeks 2-4 After the Race

For the next few weeks after the race, gradually increase training volume while avoiding intensity:

Slow progression back to higher training loads gives your body ample time to fully recover from the ultra distance.

Phase 6: 1 Month After the Race

Over the next month, you can reestablish your normal training routine:

Slowly layer normal training elements back in over a period of months. Watch for swelling, pain or extreme fatigue indicating you are pushing too soon.

Phase 7: 1+ Months After the Race

After a month you should feel fully recovered and resume your regular intense training:

With ample training adaptations, you are ready to run another strong ultra!

General Ultrarunning Recovery Tips

In addition to the phased timeline, keep these tips in mind:

The keys are patience, moderation, and using every recovery tool available to come back strongest without overdoing it.

Nutrition Tips for Optimal Recovery

Diet plays a pivotal role in bouncing back from ultramarathons. Follow these nutrition strategies:

Replenish glycogen stores

Repair damaged muscle tissue

Rehydrate effectively

Reduce inflammation

Meet elevated calorie needs

Fueling properly optimizes recovery and adaption to training. Pay close attention to timing, amounts and nutrient quality.

Soft Tissue Care

Caring for your muscles and connective tissues enhances recovery:

Use a foam roller

Receive sports massages

Stretch regularly

Try contrast water therapy

Use topical Arnica gel

Properly caring for your muscles and connective tissue enhances adaptations to training while minimizing injury risk.

Lifestyle Factors for Improved Recovery

Recovery extends beyond just diet and exercise. Lifestyle plays a key role:

Prioritize sleep

Reduce stress

Use compression wear

Elevate legs often

Get massages and bodywork

Stay socially engaged

Lifestyle factors greatly impact your energy levels and readiness to perform at your best day after day.

Warning Signs of Overtraining

While ambitious training is necessary, beware of pushing too far without adequate recovery:

If you exhibit multiple symptoms for weeks on end despite rest, you may be overtrained. Seek the guidance of a coach or sports medicine professional for guidance. A period of greatly reduced training or complete rest is likely needed to recover.

Returning After Injury

If you sustained an injury during your last ultra, take a measured approach to rebuilding:

Consult your doctor

Start gradually

Limit weekly mileage increase

Avoid terrain that caused injury

Continue ancillary exercises

Recovering properly from an injury before leaping back into ultramarathon training reduces your future risk and sets you up for success.

Mindset Tips for Optimal Recovery

Your mental approach influences your recovery just as much as physical actions:

Detach from outcomes

Avoid comparisons

Expect ups and downs

Embrace rest and renewal

Focus on the process

Cultivate patience

Appreciate small gains

Stay positive, patient and focused on the process throughout your post-race recovery. Your mindset hugely impacts your physical healing.

Final Takeaways

Ultrarunning recovery is not just about icing and ibuprofen right after crossing the finish line. True recovery requires an integrated effort across training, nutrition, soft tissue care, lifestyle and mindset over the course of weeks to months.

Respect your body’s cues and allow adequate time to regenerate after big efforts. Recovery done right enables you to continue pursuing audacious running dreams season after season.

If you want more ultra running tips head over to the Ultramarathon Central blog for loads more!

Author - Mathew Stuckey

Mathew Stuckey is the founder of Ultramarathon Central, an online platform dedicated to supporting and inspiring ultra runners from all walks of life. With a passion for pushing the limits of what's possible, Mathew has taken on some of the toughest ultra events in the UK, including the Monster Triathlon.

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