Picture this: You just finished Color Manila’s Marvel Run PH, the first running event sponsored by the comic book giant in Southeast Asia. You wore your Marvel shirt, ran with your Marvel-themed sling bag on your back, had selfies taken with the numerous superhero cosplayers standing at different points on the route, and even dashed through the last couple of kilometers in the rain! Totally made you feel like an Avenger, didn’t it?
Upon making it to the finish line, you buy yourself a greasy hotdog, sit down on the nearest curb, and watch your fellow rain-drenched runners as they savor their own victory moments. After claiming your Finisher’s Medal, you head home, falling asleep inside the cab and dreaming of obtaining all the Infinity Stones for yourself or something. Fast forward to the next morning: There you are, lying on your bed, aching all over, and wondering why you woke up feeling like Loki after his “puny god” incident.
What you’re experiencing is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it can happen to anyone, regardless of their fitness level. It’s the result of making your muscles work harder than they normally do (for example, when you go to the gym and work out, or participate in a 10 km run). It typically reaches its peak between 24 to 48 hours after your workout.
While little can be done to prevent or remove this kind of pain, there are steps you can take to ensure that you’ll recover properly after your run. Here’s an easy-to-remember (and theme-appropriate) mnemonic for your next post-run recovery period: AVENGERS.
A – Avoid stopping abruptly.
Conventional wisdom tells us that a post-exercise cool down is immensely helpful in facilitating better blood flow in the limbs, normalizing heart rate and breathing rate, and flushing out metabolic waste products. While some experts may dispute the necessity of cooling down as far as minimizing muscle pain is concerned, it is generally accepted that abruptly stopping after intense physical activity disrupts your blood flow and heart rate, and may even lead to fainting. All things considered, a slow 10-minute walk-jog after your run wouldn’t hurt, just until your heart rate goes back to normal. Besides, staying in motion significantly reduces the chances of an archer using you as a meat shield. (Yes, we’re still bitter about Quicksilver.)
V – Vary your recovery day workouts.
If you think that participating in a fun run is a great excuse for you to just stay in bed for the next three or so days, well… you might want to reconsider your stance. Fact is, you’d actually be doing your muscles a favor if you cross-trained instead. You can opt for a low-intensity activity, like a moderately paced run on a treadmill, a swimming session, or a short walk with your pet. You could even dance to Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” at home — just make sure that Drax isn’t watching!
E – Enjoy an ice bath.
Ice baths are a great way to recover post-run. Cold therapy has been said to reduce muscle swelling and pain, thereby speeding up the recovery process. Simply fill your tub with cold water, add some ice, wait about three minutes for the ice to melt a bit, and submerge your body in the tub for about 10 to 15 minutes. The first few minutes are sure to feel unpleasant because of the sudden change in temperature, so try to get through it without wanting to jump out of the water yelping. If it helps, at least you won’t be stuck in that ice tub for 70 years a la Captain America.
N – No napping (yet).
You’re tired, we know. Try to fight the urge to fall asleep, though, as you’ll have a better overall recovery process if you fill your day with light activities and sleep like a baby by the end of it. It’s all about getting your blood circulation back to normal — and the key to that is a consistent level of physical activity throughout the day. (Try listening to Star-Lord’s groovy Awesome Mix to help you stay awake.)
G – Get a massage.
No, a massage isn’t going to magically prevent or completely take away your pain (though Doctor Strange probably could). It’ll definitely make you feel better and more relaxed, though. If you don’t have the cash to burn for a proper sports massage, you could use a foam roller instead (or borrow the good Doctor’s cape).
E – Eat a light post-run snack immediately after, and a decent meal two hours later.
Admit it — this is probably the part you’re least likely to have a problem with.
Post-run snacking is important for refueling your body. By far, the most highly recommended post-run recovery snacks are carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods like chocolate milk, yogurt, and peanut butter. Hold off on the Hulk-sized cravings until about two to three hours after your run, during which you should eat a proper, balanced meal. Get a high-carbohydrate meal with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
R – Rehydrate.
Black Panther, who lives on the hottest continent on Earth, would certainly agree that hydration plays a crucial role in replacing the electrolytes you sweat out. And when you run, of course, you sweat out a LOT of them, regardless of the temperature. Thus, rehydration is the most urgent recovery step in your post-run routine. Make sure to do it within the first 10 to 15 minutes after you complete your run.
S – Stretch.
Post-run stretching provides both physical and psychological benefits. It increases your stretch tolerance and helps you feel more flexible, which makes actual flexing more bearable. This is also why stretching is typically part of both pre- and post-run routines. Fitness enthusiasts advise that post-run stretching should be done within the first 30 minutes after your run. For 10 to 15 minutes, do light stretching focused on the muscle groups that took a beating during your run — including your calves, hamstrings, hips, and quads — and the areas of your body where you feel sore. Remember, though, that you’re not as flexible as Spider-Man, so be careful not to over-stretch!
Be sure to follow these steps the next time you join a fun run. After all, you wouldn’t want to be in less-than-ideal shape when you finally get that membership call from Iron Man, right?
Bitten by a radioactive writing bug, Mikael Angelo Francisco possesses the proportionate typing speed, vocabulary, and procrastination abilities of a science-journalist-slash-pop-culture-essayist. Read his musings on comics, films, and pretty much everything else on MikaelWrites.com, and enjoy science articles for the curious Filipino on FlipScience.ph.