The average muscle soreness timeline for long-distance runners

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Many runners experience what they would describe as tightness, stiffness or soreness in their legs and feet after a long run. These feelings occur from the repetition of movement that occurs during exercise. When you require your leg muscles to repeat the same action multiple times, you are causing the muscles to naturally fatigue. Runners often wonder how long the uncomfortable feelings will last, wanting to know when they can hit the trails again. Below is a quick guide to understanding sore muscles.

The causes

Before addressing typical sore muscles, it must be made clear that if the discomfort you are experiencing happens during a long run or grows progressively worse during a run, you are not experiencing typical soreness. Stop running if the pain continues and rest. If you are not able to resume your running schedule without difficulty, consider seeking professional help for a potential muscle tear or pull.

Typical soreness can be caused by many elements other than repetition. If you have started to run a new loop that has a significant amount of elevation changes this can force either your glutes (uphill) or quads (downhill) to work more intensely than they are used. The stiffness that results is just small inflammation of the muscles, which will soon repair and allow your muscles to grow.

After a long run, especially if it is considerably longer than your typical distances, your muscles may begin to cause discomfort only a few hours after you finish. Oftentimes, the soreness won’t start until 12 to 24 hours later, when it tends to be at its most tender. Unlike weight training, running requires that you move both eccentrically and concentrically, working your muscles in their full range of motion. This causes your muscles to use energy at both ends of the movement plane.

How long to wait between sessions

Typical recommendations after a long work session can require you to take it easy for the next 72 hours. This can be a nuisance for experienced runners who may be preparing for a race and are trying to up their logged miles. Keep in mind that your muscles often do not completely heal until four days after a long run, meaning that you should try to log shorter distances until that point. Allow your body the time it needs to heal in order to avoid complications that can be caused by overtraining. An easy way to keep yourself in check is to not increase your mileage by more than 10 to 20 percent each week.

A small tip to help decrease the intensity of stiff muscles after a long run is to take a walk at the end. This light effort allows your muscles to cool down properly, while retaining their flexibility. You can also try and cool your muscles down by getting into a cold bath or applying ice packs. As is always recommended, stretch after the runs and give your legs an added bonus of a massage by hands or with a portable massager. This will help your muscles release the lactic acid they have built up.

Take proper action after your runs and you will be able to get back on track quickly. Remember, alternate your hard and easy days to give your muscles a break, and never forget rest days. If sitting still is not part of your personality, try an active rest day, take a leisurely hike or do yoga. These activities will allow you to get your heart rate elevated without causing undue stress on your body.

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