For many months, you have been committed and dedicated to training for a long-distance running event. You’ve logged hundreds of kilometres on your feet in preparation to run the race. Now, with the race over and your medal in hand, it is time for a break – physically and mentally. Instead of seeking solace in your sofa, use paddling as an active recovery exercise to maintain fitness and be even stronger.

Active recovery involves turning to any exercise that is fundamentally different to your normal programme. For runners, cycling or swimming at an intensity that is lower and at less volume than their running routine is usually recommended. Yet paddling is a better discipline to turn to for post-race recovery and as a cross-training activity within your training programme.

With dams and other waterways in urban and out-of-town areas, paddling is a safe and accessible activity that works your shoulders, back and arms, and develops core strength, while putting little stress on your feet and legs.

Year-round active recovery

After the extreme physical exertion that months of training and then completing a distance run entails, your muscles need time to rest and repair. This means reducing the stress placed on muscles, joints and connective tissues – especially those of the feet, legs and back – for a period of time, usually two to three weeks. It then takes a few weeks to build up again. This cycle is repeated throughout the year after each event.

When your body is used to exercising almost every day for months, within a week or two of completing a big event you will itch to do anything active. You will also miss those exercise-induced, feel-good endorphins that boost your mental well-being.

The good news is that the best way to recover is to engage in a low-intensity activity that is different to running. Paddling for active recovery ticks the right boxes. This non-impact, cardiovascular exercise accelerates recovery by stimulating blood flow to your joints and muscles to reduce inflammation, and paddling takes you out into nature to ensure that you feel fit and stronger when you return to a running-focused programme.

The action of paddling has other benefits too. It engages lesser-used back and core muscles, encourages a different range of motion and the rhythmic paddle stroke is a meditational mood booster to counter your post-race blues.

Cross-training for injury prevention & recovery

Paddling is also a weapon in your injury-prevention and recovery armoury. Once you return to your running programme in preparation for another race, continue paddling regularly. Use it as a cross-training activity the day after tough sessions like hills workouts and long runs to ward off stiffness, inflammation and fatigue. This no-impact sport complements the demands of high-impact running sessions.

If you are recovering from common running-related injuries like iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, runner’s knee or stress fractures, use paddling as an alternative exercise to maintain your fitness without placing undue stress on the injured part. Paddling may be no-impact, but it is not no-effort. This water-based discipline is the sport of Olympians too. Raise the ante (and your heart rate) by paddling at higher intensity. Mix it up with intervals, sprints, long sessions and outings to paddle at different locations.

Sit. On. Top.

Like racing flats vs cushioned running shoes, not all kayaks are created equal and the needs of professional, sport and recreational paddlers differ. When your primary discipline is running, you need a kayak that offers sufficient speed to keep you entertained with stability that guarantees that you will stay on top of the water and not in it – especially in winter!

Plastic sit-on-top kayaks offer the most versatility. These stable and robust kayaks can be used to paddle for recovery and cross-training, and quickly become a favourite take-on-holiday accessory.

Vagabond Kayaks’ new Marimba kayak is designed for speed and is intended for fitness training, distance paddling and touring. Novices will take to it like a duck to water while paddlers with experience will relish its performance capabilities.

Explore through paddling

Just as runners discover interesting and special places in cities, suburbs and locations away from home to pursue their passion for running, so too does this extend to discovering waterways through paddling. From lagoons, estuaries and bays to the flatwater of rivers and dams on public and private properties, paddling can be enjoyed at home and out-of-town throughout the year. Revel in different scenery and exposure to waterbirds, riverine flora and the magnificent biodiversity of wetland areas.

As you settle into this post-race recovery period, maintain your hard-won gains in fitness and strength from each training journey by turning to paddling for active recovery and as a year-round cross-training and injury prevention activity.

Author: Lisa de Speville.