Body & Sole: After long runs at the weekend my legs get stiff

I got up off the sofa in January and am running towards a mini-marathon but training makes my legs stiff

A bit of  stiffness is no bad thing but when that stiffness turns into pain, action must be taken. Photograph: Getty Images

A bit of stiffness is no bad thing but when that stiffness turns into pain, action must be taken. Photograph: Getty Images


I read Run, Fat Bitch, Run in January and, feeling inspired, I did the six steps, have lost some weight and entered a mini-marathon in May. The thing is that I get really stiff legs after my long weekend run and can barely walk the next day. Why is this and how can I avoid it happening?


A little bit of stiffness in the legs the day after a long run is no bad thing. It means you have really stretched yourself, and gone outside of your comfort zone. But when that stiffness turns into real pain and/or is so severe that it prevents you from carrying out everyday activities, action must be taken.

If you are new to running, as I believe you are, having entered a mini-marathon from the position of overweight non-runner (an act of courage for which we are all applauding you), some of that stiffness is simply a result of your legs doing way more than they are used to. They need time and training to adjust. To facilitate this process, and reduce stiffness, I recommend:

Run harder and faster
Try to incorporate a bit of pace running (sprints and slow jogging mixed up) or hill running into at least one of your shorter weekday runs. This will really work those leg muscles and improve your fitness faster than your regular short runs alone, thus reducing the shock to the legs of the longer weekend run.

Keep your runs balanced
Keep a good balance between short and long runs. Don’t, for example, just do three very short runs during the week and then a ludicrously long one at the weekend. Have a mid-length one during the week too.

Drink more water
Stay hydrated and fuelled during your long run. After it, eat a good meal within two hours and drink plenty of fluids to replenish depleted glycogen stores.

Lie down
Lying with your legs up against the wall after your long run can help ease lactic acid build-up and reduce stiffness.

For the grit fiend
Dive into an ice bath or cold shower straight after your long run. For the grit dodger: ice on those legs if you can’t bear to submerge your entire body . . .

Sleep well
Try to ensure a good night’s sleep, for eight hours if possible, after your long run. Sleep is when all of the healing happens and those micro-tears to your leg muscles – that stiffness is often symptomatic of – repair and rebuild while your body is at rest.

Stretch out
Stretching may help before and after your run, but it is crucial that you stretch properly or you are in danger of exacerbating the problem. Always warm up by walking for 10 minutes.

Stay active
Keep moving immediately after the long run, for at least 10 minutes, and be active during the day after – at the very least have a good walk the following day. Don’t just slump at the office desk or spend the day on the couch gloating about having done your long run. This just encourages stiffness.

Some people swear by arnica tablets – a homeopathic remedy which you can get in any chemist. Some swear by good old fashioned ibuprofen and other standard painkillers.

The Grit Doctor warns : Avoid taking medication where possible and address the root cause of the problem instead. Save those painkillers for when you really need them.

You began your journey from overweight sofa surfer to lean mean running machine in the dead of winter when most of us were curled up under a duvet eating biscuits and weeping, which shows you have true grit.

That your commitment is still intact come March means you have staying power and a determination to succeed.

No doubt your efforts have already yielded some great results, for both your body and mind.

Now that the sun is beginning to shine once more, and the days are getting longer, those runs are going to become easier and easier for you, not just on your legs, but in every way imaginable.

Training in spring is a pleasure – which you’ll enjoy all the more keenly for having experienced the real pain that accompanies running in the first few months of the year through snow and sub-zero temperatures. In a few weeks, with any luck, the leg stiffness will have all but disappeared along with the winter.

Tweet your running queries to Ruth at: @gritdoctor

Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run