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6 tips to recover from a hard workout

Keep running strong and long by including recovery in your daily and long-term training plans. Learn how to recover from running and how to actually make recovery activities a habit in your daily training. I also shared the BEST recovery tool.

Here’s the truth – I’m REALLY good at following a training plan. If my running coach uploaded a workout into Training Peaks, I did it. What I’m not so good at? Recovery. I KNOW it’s important and I tell every new runner to prioritize it. But, I’m not so good at prioritizing it myself.

Working in regular recovery activities will help you continue to run long and/or fast — and do it LONG TERM with fewer injuries. And while it may seem counterintuitive, if you run hard every day and neglect recovery, you will limit your potential. Truly.

So today, I’m sharing tips to help you recover after a long run (or any type of workout, really) and some tips to help make it a habit!

How to recover from a hard workout

1. Eat a solid post-run meal

Make sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run. If I know I won’t be able to get a meal right away, I make sure to have some kind of bar with protein, fat, and carbs. While there are some recommended macro ratios, don’t worry about the perfect post-run meal – just get some mix of carbs, protein and fat! (P.S. Here’s why carbs are so important for MOST runners!! No Keto here.)

What to eat after a long run

My two favorite bars are Picky Bars (save $10 off your first order with this link) and RX Bars (cheapest at Costco and Trader Joe’s). I often hit the farmers market after my Saturday long run so I make sure I always have one of those in my gym bag.

If you can get a real meal, that is always better than a bar. An egg and veggie scramble with potatoes or toast is my favorite post-run meal. But on days that I do NOT feel like eating (usually after a super hot run), a smoothie or acai bowl does the trick.

post run meal acai bowlShorts | blouse | bowls | similar earrings here & here (mine are custom) | dog 😉 | makeup

2. Run your recovery runs slowly

The vast majority of people run their recovery runs far too fast, so they’re not actually recovery runs. That can lead to injuries and/or overtraining syndrome.

And I know, I know… you’re thinking, “I do run slowly!” But you’re probably not running slow enough. And you’re probably not doing enough runs at recovery pace compared to threshold pace (heck, you might not even realize you’re running at your threshold!).

How slow should recovery runs be?

Let me give you some guidelines:

My race pace in the Boston Marathon this year was 7:30 minutes per mile, my half marathon pace is around 7:00 per mile, and for a 5k it’s around 6:30 per mile.

Want to know what my recovery pace is? 8:45 – 9:30. And sometimes my first mile of a recovery run is around 9:45. So we’re talking 2-3+ minutes per mile slower than what I race at.

When training for Boston, 3-4 runs per week were easy, recovery runs. I had 2, sometimes 3, hard efforts per week, including my long run. More of your miles should be at recovery run pace than anything else.

If you slow down your easy days, you’ll not only run faster and feel better on your workout days, but also get to race day or a hard workout feeling like you are ready to go.

And you want to know the best way to get a PR? Not show up on race day overtrained or injured.

My running coach, Enoch, shared more about WHY recovery runs are so important for your body in this post and how to run them off effort rather than a specific pace.

3. Get a sports massage

When I was training for Boston, I got massages about every two weeks. Yes, it was expensive, but I figured it was cheaper than going to dry needling twice a week.

Let me be clear – my massages are NOT relaxing. They are intense and often very uncomfortable. But they made a big difference in my training so my body could adapt to higher mileage (I ran 50-60+ miles a week and a few times hit over 70 miles in a 7 day period).

Regular massages might not be realistic, but even once a month is better than nothing. (If you’re in the Winston-Salem area, I can’t recommend Ger Browne enough.)

I’m also a big fan of the Hypervolt for my calves, glutes and quads. (And I’ll be honest, I bought it for Tommy as a Christmas present but it was probably a selfish purchase. 😉 ) It has different attachments to massage and four levels of intensity, which can be…quite intense.

4. Foam roll, foam roll and do it some more

I try to use the foam roller or the Roll Recovery almost every day, which helps to flush out any tight spots. I always put it off, but once I start, I enjoy it and end up doing more than I planned. This is the foam roller I have and this is the foam roller I want — the vibrating option sounds awesome!

What helps me stick to it daily (or close to it!) is setting a timer for 5 minutes, usually just on my Garmin after I get home from my run. I change areas every 30 seconds and usually end up rolling a little longer than 5 minutes.  And you bet I save that as a workout and upload it to Strava. (I use this same trick with post-run stretching!)

Five minutes may not seem like a lot but if you do it after 5 runs a week, that’s 25 minutes of foam rolling, which is a LOT better than none. I foam roll after running and strength training.

And if you REALLY don’t have time to fit this in post-run, end your run 5 minutes early. There ya go – I just gave you five minutes to do it. 🙂

runner foam rolling

Nike Metcons (for strength days) | best socks ever (even if you don’t have plantar fasciitis) | foam roller | lululemon speed shorts (I wear size 4) | rug

5. Have “down” blocks

When you are training for a big race, it’s important to look at your training at the macro level. If you are planning to run three races in a year, make sure you have a period where you are running fewer miles and fewer structured miles (i.e. no workouts, intervals, specific paces or distances, etc.)

Aside from giving your body a break, your mind also needs time to recover. I was in training mode from December through June with three races (Boston, Boulder, American Fork) on my calendar that didn’t give me enough downtime in between. As a result, I showed up to the half marathon in June super burned out and apathetic about race day.

My coach talked to me about how my race plans would likely be all too much, since he knows how I put pressure on myself, and he was really good at adjusting my workouts to keep my body fresh. But, he couldn’t turn off the pressure I put on myself.

The important thing is to know yourself. I didn’t really push myself in the BolderBoulder 10K or the American Fork Half, but the grind of being in training mode took a toll on me. And months and months of uninterrupted training impact me more than 1-3 specific race days.

And FYI, my coach forced me to take a break after the half marathon. He turned off my training plan. 🙂

6. Sleep

I saved the best and most important for last.

Sleep is one of those things that I know is important but I haven’t always prioritized it. But, I truly function so much better with at LEAST 7 hours of sleep. My husband and close friends will tell you that I’m a bit of a nightmare when it gets close to bedtime if I can’t start to wind down and head to bed. I truly start to panic – sleep is THAT important to me.

Aside from sleep deprivation causing me to be a jerk, more and more research is showing that the BEST recovery tool is SLEEP. More than any foam roller, ice baths, supplements, whatever. So if you can’t afford to buy any of the tools or simply don’t want to, just SLEEP.

Turn off the TV. Put your phone away. Take note of where you’re spending time that is preventing getting 7-8 hours a night. And then decide if your running goals are more important than whatever else you’re doing.


How do you recover from running?


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