Hitting the Wall: Recovering from a long ride

Editor’s note: Before this weekend’s Philly Cycling Classic, the Bicycling Open will allow Philadelphia amateur riders to preview the course for themselves. Deb Kucera, PT, MSPT from Magee Rehab offers some tips on post-ride recovery.

Recovery from any long ride takes focus. Recovery from a ride that includes the “Manayunk Wall” takes extra focus, especially if you haven’t exactly trained well for it (we’re looking at you, eager amateur riders). 

When should you ideally start to think about recovery?  Ideally, well before you hop on the bicycle. The less prepared your body is for the race, the longer your recovery is going to take. You may be saying to yourself, well, it’s a little late for that. But not to fear—whether you have been training for months on end or signed up on a whim, in a few days, you’re going to have to tackle the infamous Manayunk Wall. And the days to follow may be marked by soreness, pain, and fatigue, but with any luck, no injury. 

A successful recovery phase needs to be more than falling to the ground to catch your breath, or heading down Main Street for a celebratory drink. There are lots of specific plans recommended for recovery in elite athletes, but here aresome basic tips important for any level cyclist after a big race. 

Warm-down. This year’s race finishes at the top of The Wall, which will make even the most seasoned cyclist want to hop immediately off their bikes. But resist the urge. Spend about 10 minutes lightly pedaling to give your heart and respiratory rate a moment to slow down and help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. 

Replace what you have lost. Drink immediately after.  Slowly sip a glass or two of water or preferred hydrating beverage (this does not include Main Street’s main export) over the first 30 minute post-race.  Don’t chug a gallon all at once. Continue to drink a couple glasses every half hour for the next several hours following the race. 

Refuel. Snack immediately after. A good guideline is to have a snack in the first 30 minute that contains 1 gram of protein for every 4 grams of carbs. Eat a full meal of lean protein and complex carbs, such as chicken or beans with whole grain pasta or oatmeal within 2 hours. 

Stretch LIGHTLY. Immediately after the race is no time to perform intricate yoga poses. Just gentle static stretching of key muscle groups is fine (quads, hamstrings, calves, and low back generally). No need to heat yourself back up.  Though a warm or even hot bath may sound inviting for muscles that are already starting to feel sore, cold baths are more highly recommended to reduce inflammation and calm down.   Compression garments are used by some athletes post-race to stimulate recovery and circulation. 

Get some shut-eye. While it is tempting to celebrate your cycling success until the wee hours of the morning, think again. A good night’s sleep is critical to recovery and repair of the body.  Recovery after intense exercise needs to be more than just regular rest. If 8 to 9 hours is not your norm, you should consider it after a long intense ride. 

Good luck to all participating in the Philly Cycling Classic this weekend, and remember: with good planning, it’s possible to conquer the Wall without hitting a wall.

Deb Kucera, PT, MSPT is a physical therapist and serves as Director of Therapy Services at Magee. Deb has enjoyed over 17 years in both leadership and direct patient care roles. A proud mom of two, with her clinical service and leadership background, she shares equal enthusiasm for creating exceptional customer experiences and an engaged positive work environment.

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.