I know from experience that following any kind of physical exercise, if I am working hard, I will ache. I think we all do. My joints get stiff, my back and neck aches, and my leg and arm muscles let me know they have worked hard by screaming rather a lot. I am no endurance athlete, my fitness is similar to so many other full-time office workers, and so anything that involves lots of effort will result in DOMs of one kind or another.
In the run up to the Lyke Wake Walk I have been thinking not only about my fitness and nutrition (neither of which are really where I want them to be… but I’ve run out of time now), but also about how I might be afterwards. How I allow myself to recover is going to be very important if I’m going to avoid the worst of the post-event slump that seems inevitable. I’ve definitely got better over the last few months; the day after a long hike is nowhere near as painful now as I have known it to be. For example, I walked 16 miles on Saturday up and down steep hills, with lots of striding between boulders and skipping over bog, and I wasn’t anywhere near as stiff as I was expecting. In fact it was really only my thighs, and I didn’t grown when getting up out of my tent on Sunday morning. But I know that after 40 miles, my approach to recovery is going to be very important.
Finishing the Walk the Walk London Moonwalk, May 2012
With that in mind, here are my tips for recovery following a physical challenge… advice to myself as well as anyone else undertaking anything similar – long distance hiking, running a marathon, cycling across a country, climbing a mountain.
Resting is vital. Take a day off and allow yourself some time with your feet up. Drink copious amounts of your favourite tea (keep hydrated!), prepare and eat your favourite comfort food (mmmmm fish pie), read your favourite book or watch a DVD. Run a bath with your favourite bubbles (Soap and Glory Calm One Calm All for me) and soak for an hour while listening to your favourite music. Take some me time and allow yourself to relax and let your mind wander. This is your time, you’ve earned it.
After a long hike the soles of my feet are often sore, not from blisters (although sometimes!), but simply from the time and distance they have had to take the weight of my ungraceful body. I was recently recommended Gerlachs Gehwol Extra, an awesome foot cream that protects the soles of my feet and also helps them repair. Massaging it into aching feet is such a nice feeling.
I’d also recommend compression socks (or compression tights) – a new-to-me recovery aid that I wish I’d discovered years ago. I’d heard of them but just thought they were for serious athletes, not ordinary people who do the odd physical challenge every now and again. I bought the CEP Recovery Socks and I love them! Once you’ve managed to get them on (which takes quite a bit of effort!) they really do keep the muscles warm and help to move all that lactic acid out.
While rest and relaxation is vital, especially if you’ve been working hard in the run up your challenge, your muscles will not thank you if you sit still for long periods of time. Get up off the sofa every 20 minutes or so and walk around to stretch your legs. Sit in different chairs through the day so you don’t end up in a position you can’t get out of. Stretching exercises will help, perhaps a bit of yoga or pilates, to help your muscles loosen up a bit. Go outside and get some fresh air; walk to the local shop for supplies, go for a gentle swim, have a sports massage – laziness is fine, but make sure it’s coupled with some light movement so you don’t seize up completely.
Using a foam roller could help, although many people see them as instruments of torture. Some light foam roller exercise can reduce stiffness and stretch your muscles out. It’s also a very proactive way to aid your recovery without doing anything too strenuous. I find the roller is great for my legs, although when my calf muscles are very tight (which is more common than it should be) it can be a bit painful. There are lots of guides online showing you what to do. Even if you don’t have or want a foam roller, stretching is going to be so helpful in getting your body back to its normal self, so spend some time on it.
The biggest problem (I find) following a big physically demanding challenge is that the thing that has taken over your life for ages has finished. Gone. That leaves an inevitable hole and it is easy to feel a bit empty as a result. It can lead to a real down-in-the-dumps feeling. The first thing to remember is that this is normal; the post-event-come-down is something that unless you have a challenge immediately following to turn your attention to is almost certainly going to show itself. Not always, but I find it’s almost certain. Your rest and stretching will both help with your mental recovery; if your body feels good your mind is more likely to follow. But there are other things you can do, too.
I recommend spending some time to write down an account of your experience. You don’t have to show anyone (or you can blog about it for all to see – it’s up to you), but the act of writing it down will allow you to relive your challenge including all the highs and lows, and help to secure a feeling of accomplishment. Sort through your photographs from the event and caption them with notes about the scene. Call your mum, or your best friend, or the event organiser, and tell them all about it.
If you find yourself sat wallowing in misery then get up and do something different. Bake a cake, do something crafty, read a book, meet a friend for coffee. Put your mind to something that is not related to the challenge you have just completed – give it something else to think about.
Finally, if the challenge has left you feeling really empty but with a yearning for more, then use good old Google and find your next challenge. Start dreaming again, prepare your next training plan, and begin your next project.
Completing the Spires and Steeples Challenge, October 2014
I am fully expecting to be in agony the day after the Lyke Wake Walk. But it will be an agony that comes together with a feeling of satisfaction. Hopefully these things will all help me recover quickly.
What are your tips for recovery following a big physical challenge?