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Recovering from a long-distance GORUCK Event can pose physical and mental challenges, to put it lightly. The grueling demands of a GORUCK Event are legendary, and it's essential to know how to bounce back and recover quickly. We wanted to give you some useful tips to help as you recover from a long-distance GORUCK Event.
You've got that patch in your hand, you're dirty, exhausted, and just want to fall into the back seat of your car for a long nap. But what should you be doing to make sure your recovery is as quick and effortless as possible? An ideal recovery happens immediately after you get that patch.1. Keep moving for at least 10-15 minutes, especially if your heart rate is still elevated and allow it to gradually return to normal. Drop your ruck and walk around to help prevent blood from pooling in your legs and reduce muscle soreness. It's also a great chance to have a little relaxed social time and ...
2. Drink water, electrolytes and tart cherry juice to replenish the fluids and minerals lost during the Event. We know how tempting it is to crack open a beer directly after ENDEX, but make sure you've properly hydrated first. Otherwise, if one beer leads to three+, that hangover may be the worst one you've ever had.
It may also be tempting to grab a coffee, especially if you've got a long drive home, until after you're well hydrated, because that can contribute to further dehydration as well.
3. Stretch If there's one fitness discipline outside of rucking that PATHFINDER highly recommends, it's yoga and mobility! Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to get the most benefit. Muscles can feel "bunged up" (that's a technical term) for a few hours and can lead to more soreness than is necessary. Take some time to stretch everything out as you change out of your socks and shoes.
4. Get a snack! It's not uncommon to grab pizza and burgers after an Event, but snacking on the drive over after your Event is a really good idea. Make sure you have a snack with plenty of protein and carbs. The carbs help replenish the lost glycogen stores in your muscles, while the proteins help rebuild your muscles that were broken down. Some options would be:
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Chocolate milk & a banana
- Greek yogurt & granola
- Eggs & toast
- If you're super fancy and on your nutritional A-game, a small meal that's been waiting for you in a thermos! That can definitely feel comforting and makes the pizza less of a gut-bomb.
5. Ice it all down This is the moment you take Wim Hoff's ice bath suggestions and go all in! On your way home or back to the hotel, grab a few bags of ice for the tub. Fill the tub with cool water, *put on a swimsuit or keep your undies on* (you'll thank us for that suggestion), turn off the bathroom lights and climb on in. You just did a GORUCK, you can handle an ice-bath.
Put on some soothing music and shiver away with a smile on your face. If you need more proof, the effects of cold therapy in this small study of 46 male runners found that cold immersion therapy (ice baths) and massage was more helpful than passive recovery alone. If you’re feeling fancy, we’re also big fans of cryotherapy. There’s nothing like that sleek chamber door sliding open, spilling the little therapeutic room with nitrogen gas, to make you feel like a badass after a long event.
THE NEXT DAY
We know how tempting it is to keep going, but it's time for a couple of rest days. Your body needs to recover, so resist the temptation to jump back into intense exercise right away. Give yourself a few days to let your body heal. You've experienced some intense physical changes. It may actually take you 1-2 weeks to recover, so plan for "after training" as much as you planned during the lead up.
Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and consider taking naps during the day if you feel tired. Sleep is essential for repairing damaged muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores. Since sleep is so individual to each athlete, you may either sleep harder than you have in a while, or potentially have fitful sleep. Fitful sleep is possible due to overexertion and under hydration, especially if you had you event during a warm season. If you feel feverish or overly warm, or even experience hot flashes after a long Event, that's your cue to rest even more the following day.
HYDRATION & CONTINUED ELECTROLYTES
Any long-distance Event can lead to significant dehydration, especially if you're not properly hydrated before and during the ruck. Continuing to drink plenty of water, and including electrolytes in your water during the recovery period can replenish lost fluids and prevent further dehydration. Not having enough electrolytes, or not replenishing them enough, can lead to elevated blood pressure and sore muscles.
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MUSCLE SORENESS & INFLAMMATION
A long distance ruck Event can put a lot of strain on your leg muscles, and it's not uncommon to experience muscle soreness and stiffness for several days afterward. This is due to the micro-tears that occur in your muscle fibers during the ruck. The damaged muscles then go through a process of repair and rebuilding, which is what ultimately makes them stronger. Muscle damage and inflammation can often be felt, but not always, and it's a wise idea to heal for at least a few days.
Compression socks can help reduce potential swelling and increase your circulation, and a bonus, they feel really great on tired calves.
Inflammation is the body's natural response to tissue damage and can cause swelling, redness, and pain, and it can last for several days after your GORUCK. Anti-inflammatory foods, such as berries and leafy greens, can help reduce inflammation and aid in recovery.
Your immune function may also be slightly reduced, making you more susceptible to illness. This is because the body's immune system is working hard to repair damaged tissues and cells, leaving fewer resources available to fight off infection. It's essential to take steps to support your immune system after your GORUCK Event, such as getting plenty of rest and eating a healthy diet.
Be sure to get some mobility in, or take a few yoga classes, to help recover quicker. Mobility can be as simple as foam rolling (there are lots of great follow-along videos on YouTube). There's also plenty of benefit in seeing a sports massage therapist or a physical therapist.
What you eat in your recovery period is just as important as what you ate leading up to your Event. Focus on complex carbs (think sweet potatoes, acorn squash, quinoa, brown rice) and green veggies (like spinach, kale, chard) for maximum recovery benefits. Make sure to consume lean proteins, like chicken breast, fish, eggs, or tofu with each meal.
OK, Coach, I'm rested & ready
After you've given yourself some time off, start incorporating some gentle exercise back into your routine. This could include activities like yoga, swimming, or light jogging. These types of exercises will help improve blood flow to your muscles and promote healing without putting too much stress on your body.
As you start to feel stronger, you can gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. But be careful not to overdo it. Your body has been through a lot, and it needs time to adjust to regular exercise again. Start with active recovery style workouts, and build up from there.
Once you feel good as new, start training for your next Event!
What if I have the Post Event Blues?
Endurance Events can be mentally taxing and physically challenging. Give yourself some time to reflect on your accomplishments. Writing an AAR is a great way to process the experience, especially if it was a particularly grueling Event.
Post-Event blues can be a normal part of the recovery process. We don't talk about it enough, but if you feel this way, it's not something you're just imagining. While it's not defined clinically, anything event- or achievement oriented often has a letdown opposite. You worked with a single-minded focus to be physically and mentally prepared for whatever Event challenges you encountered, and your body and mind may go through a disappointment period, where it feels weirdly easy to ruminate on the Event itself, nitpick what you did wrong, and generally feel negative about yourself and your performance.
Recovery involves more than just hydration, sleep and stretching. Recovery also affects your endocrine system and hormones. Inflammation can make you feel like you got hit by a truck. Research suggests that inflammation may affect the brain and its neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are important for regulating mood and emotions. This can lead to an increase in stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can have a negative effect on mood. Inflammation can interfere with the functioning of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which is involved in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. Reduced levels of serotonin can lead to feelings of sadness and depression.
There are a lot of theories about why you might feel like hot emotional garbage after an Event. In every case, though, emotions are real and they can have physical feelings attached to them. They don't just "go away" if you ignore them enough. If you find that the blues after your Event start to affect your daily life, you aren't broken. It doesn't make you a bad athlete and it doesn't make the Event any less personally important, either. You worked hard and you deserve to feel proud of your accomplishment. It can take real effort to exit the stress and rumination tunnel you may find yourself in.
Your performance matters less than the memories you made. As always, see a medical-health professional whenever it may be helpful, from a therapist to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
If you're looking to take your rucking game to the next level, joining PATHFINDER, the ultimate 12-week online-based, self-paced ruck training program. PATHFINDER provides the support and guidance you need to achieve your fitness goals, with a unique blend of Challenges, workouts, and mileage requirements inspired by military training. Join PATHFINDER today and take your ruck training to the next level!
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Amy Petersen is PATHFINDER Ruck Training's Director of Programming, an ACE-CPT, PN-1 and PN-SSR. Email her at email@example.com