The 7 Stages of Long-Run Recovery

I love the feeling of crushing a long run as much as the next person. But like many other runners — probably you too — I’m not immune to the many stages, some great and some not so great, of post-run recovery.

(I look happy — albeit squinty — but I am hurting here, kind of badly.)

I witnessed the evolution of long-run recovery on Sunday, as an outsider, after Noah crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon with a 15-minute PR. The result: Each stage of long-run recovery was even more pronounced, the process more accelerated, than had he raced without pushing himself to his physical and mental limits.

Fortunately, while I am an insanely good girlfriend and a stellar singlet smiley face drawer, I am an equally talented post-long-run nurse. And after the marathon was all said and done, I had the privilege of not only observing and analyzing each stage (insert evil laugh here), but also nursing the poor guy back to health.

Here’s how it all went down.

1. Euphoria

Euphoria doesn’t merely refer to the moment you cross the finish line either; that overall sense of awesomeness carries over to the walk home and long, hot shower that inevitably ensues. The result of an endorphin flood, no doubt, this booming sense of euphoria is one of the very reasons why runners — and athletes of all kinds — return to the battlefield time and again.

2. Confusion: Why am I not hungry?

You would think that a long run, whether an 8-miler on the weekend or a marathon once or twice a year, would yield intense hunger pangs that inspire a food fest like no other. And yet, after running long or sprinting hard, hunger can be nowhere to be found. Stomach, are you there?

What’s up with that?

3. Exhaustion 

The primary problem with the aforementioned lack of hunger is that, despite your seemingly satisfied stomach, your body is typically in dire need of major calories, energy and fuel. All of a sudden, you’re scrounging for protein and carbs in the bottom of your refrigerator, placing the butt-end of the bread (because that’s all that’s left!) into the toaster oven and hoping that it, along with a crap-load of peanut-butter, does the trick.

By the time you sit on the couch and await the toaster’s ding, you’re overcome with a wave of sleepiness, resulting in burnt bread and a potential fire hazard as you drift off into dreamland.

4. Run-fever

Chills. Warm forehead. Noah and I call this “run-fever,” because, at least in our eyes, that’s what it feels like when you wake up from your post-long-run nap. Waking up after a regular nap can feel horrible enough (this, in our apartment, is “nap-fever”), let alone after having logged double digits and neglected to refuel your bod before snoozing.

Your only hope for salvation rests in eating something — anything — and quick. Finally, you scarf down a long overdue meal, and you’re back up and at ’em in no time.

Hm, I must have just been hungry, you think to yourself with lifted spirits, as though you’d just discovered the atom.

5. Energizer bunny

Your body tends to respond to this first post-long-run meal really well. You were near-death only minutes ago, but that pretzel, cheese and radish sandwich (or whatever you were able to find in your kitchen) must have been a miracle cure.

Now what?

Party time.

6. The final countdown

All this new-found energy can really be deceiving; just as quickly as you bounce back, you typically fade again. Often, you’re dressed up and ready to go to a friend’s house-party, or primping yourself for date night, only to find yourself waking up at 3am with a bottle opener in your hand and your heels dangling off the couch. Fail.

7. Human again

Let’s be honest, you probably won’t be human again until the day after your long-run, when you wake up well-rested and restored. Fortunately, you only have a 6-mile recovery run planned, so like, you’ll be good to go in no time.

  • How do you feel after a long run?
  • What are your 7 stages of recovery?
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