To run — as defined by our friends at Google — is to, “move at a speed faster than a walk.”
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if training was that simple?
The thing is, no matter if you’re training for a 5K or 50K ultramarathon, successful runners do a lot more than just run … something I haven’t always been willing to accept.
I’m the kind of guy that loves to run — weekend-long trial runs are a highlight each week, and daily runs fill me with energy and excitement. But as I progressed in distance and worked towards goals, it became clear I’d need to do more than just move at a speed faster than a walk to be successful.
The only problem? Nothing got me as excited as the act of running.
So I had to make a shift that would change everything. That shift?
To consider each run not as just the time on the road or trail, but the entire workout experience.
And it’s that viewpoint — which I share with you below — that helps me finish 100-mile ultramarathons and helps my coaching clients meet their goals.
Why Runs Don’t Stop When Your Watch Does
For most runners, the run stops when your GPS watch does. You hold down the top right button until it beeps, and boom. Workout complete.
That’s a problem.
Because what you do in those 20-30 minutes directly after your run will impact the effectiveness of your workout. What and when you eat impacts recovery, and how you move can cool down muscles and aid in preventing injuries, for example.
But that physical stop of the watch often queues a mental end to your workout, whether you intend to tack on post-run activities or not. In my opinion, that’s why most runners never do the post-run routine they know would benefit their training.
Motivation stops right with the watch.
Which brings us back to that mental shift: when you begin to consider a “run” or “workout” as more than just the miles logged on your watch, it’s easier to incorporate the other routines and tasks.
They’re no longer bonus activities, but instead simply part of what you do.
Developing Your Perfect Post-Run Routine
Every runner has a story … and their own needs to be met by a post-run routine. I could tell you exactly what I do, but what I do might not be what you should do.
So instead, I’ve developed a simple formula to create a routine that fits your needs (and your story). The formula focuses on strength, recovery, and mental focus — the three areas I’ve found most helpful for post-run success.
What do you say? Let’s start easy:
1. Hydrate (1 Minute)
You’ve heard it since you were eight years old — your body is made up primarily of water. It’s no shocker that we need to hydrate after a tough run. As your body begins the recovery process, muscles rely on fluids to stay lubricated and elastic, and dehydration will hold them back.
How to do it:
Fill up a bottle or glass to nurse throughout the rest of the routine. Electrolyte heavy sports drinks are great after tough workouts or long runs, but plain water will do just fine.
The amount of water you need largely depends on what you lost during the workout, but no matter what the temperature outside or how much you think you sweated out, make re-hydrating one of the first things you do after a run.
2. Build Strength (10 Minutes)
Arguably the most ignored running truth is that while running increases strength in certain muscles, other areas of the body are left weak and under used. But running is a full-body activity…
… Your arms help propel your legs.
… Your back keeps your form in line.
… Your core is engaged with every stride.
As much as you may hate it, regular strength work is an essential ingredient to proper training and a post-run routine.
How to do it:
Choose a routine based on your abilities and needs. All runners can benefit from basic core strength work, which is an easy place to get started (shout-out to elementary school PE for teaching us the basic sit-up!).
If you have a history with injuries, I also recommend to incorporate focused work in that area on top of core exercises. Take IT band issues, for example. Committing to exercises that help strengthen the IT band and surrounding muscles will help prevent future issues. Same goes for hips, feet, and any other area of your body that gives you trouble.
Here are a few strength routines to get you started. Don’t stress out about which is exactly right for you; pick one that looks like a good fit and give it a try:
- Strength Routine for Trail Runners (Rock Creek Runner)
- The Standard Core Routine (Strength Running)
- ITB Rehab Routine (Strength Running)
- Yoga for Runners (No Meat Athlete)
3. Speed Up Recovery (5 Minutes)
As soon as the strength work is complete, recovery begins, and you have the opportunity to directly impact on how efficiently it happens. By taking a few minutes to focus on the major muscle groups (for runners) like your quads, hips, IT Band, and hamstring, you’ll get a jump start on repairing those muscles and working out any nagging issues or hot spots.
How to do it:
- Foam roll (aka my favorite torture device)
- Stretch — While a lot of experts now think static stretching before your run is a bad idea, stretching after a run can release tight muscles and help prevent injury
- Gentle yoga — Unlike the yoga mentioned above, I use gentle, stretching-focused yoga to stay loose and flexible
4. Eat (5 Minutes)
We see a lot of talk about fueling before and during your workout, but post-run fueling for recovery is often neglected. And it makes sense — after a run the first things you want to do are rest, shower, and drink a beer (or my favorite, all three at the same time).
Eating might be up there, but it often takes a back seat to washing away your stench. The thing is, food is your way to restock your body. Eating restores depleted glycogen stores and repairs damaged muscles, which is most effective when you do it within twenty to thirty minutes of the end of your run.
How to do it:
I like to think of post-run fuel as a snack, not a full meal, which is why it takes five minutes or less to prep. You can eat a full meal a little later (within two hours of your run).
The suggested nutrient ratio for that snack is 4-to-1 carbohydrates-to-protein, but sticking to the No Meat Athlete way of simplicity over stress, I encourage you not to worry too much about ratios. Instead, think carb-heavy, with a little protein.
Doesn’t that relieve a lot of the pressure?
Some of my go-to post-run stacks are:
- Fruit smoothie (with nut butter, seeds, or protein powder)
- Toast with avocado or nut butter (heads up, you can get a free jar of Justin’s Classic Almond Butter through Thrive Market here)
- Oatmeal with nuts and fruit
- Trail mix
Take a few minutes after you finish the movement portion of your post-run routine to fix a snack, and enjoy it while we complete the fifth and final element.
5. Track (2 Minutes)
Sometimes the simplest things have the biggest impact, and tracking runs is one of those times.
By keeping a training a log, you can see exactly what’s working and what isn’t. If a race or training cycle goes wrong — either with an injury or missed goal — you’re able to look back at the data and make adjustments. And if it goes right, you have a blueprint to build upon.
And even more than that, it’s a way to hold yourself accountable by checking in daily about whether you hit your goal or not. By simply taking a few minutes to note and reflect back on what you did (or didn’t do) that day, you’ll keep your mind focused on progress.
How to do it:
There are countless ways to track your runs. Some involve sharing them with the world (hey social media), and others keep your training private. I share three easy techniques below, but the most important thing is to be consistent in where you track, and to be thorough in how you track.
The more details on how you felt, where you ran, and what your workout looked like, the better.
Here are three ways to track your runs:
- Through Strava — The easiest way is to simply upload GPS data to a site like Strava. It’s a great way to get clear stats on your run, but if you never look at them, there’s no point. For all online trackers, I recommend actually opening up the activity and writing in notes about the run.
- Digital training log — I make all my coaching clients keep a digital log which they have to enter in themselves. No plug-in-and-go with this option, but it can be as simple as filling in a few cells on a spreadsheet.
- Pen and paper — My favorite method for tracking is the ol’ pen and paper technique. Either in a true runner’s log or a simple notebook, jot down the stats, your route, and how you felt.
Putting it All Together: Design a Routine that Works for You
But, as well-intentioned as a routine may be, it’s only sustainable if it fits your needs (time, body, and goal needs).
As you use this formula to put together a post-run routine of your own, keep those needs at the forefront of your mind. Maybe that means you start small, with just one aspect of the routine. Or maybe it means you focus heavily on a recurring injury.
Whatever the routine you develop looks like, make it just as much a part of your run as the run it self.
And over time, your definition of going for a run will shift from just moving quickly to moving, eating, drinking, recovering, and tracking.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun?