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Aching legs and sore feet are common after hiking, but these simple tips can ease muscle pain after long walks. 

The Strong Women Trek that happened this past weekend – 22k through the rolling countryside of north London – was beautiful. But there’s no denying that it was tough on the feet, calves and thighs. That’s a reality that many people tend to underestimate: we never think that walking will be as intense as running or a workout.

After my last six-hour walk ended with some of the worst DOMS of my life, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. So as we all collapsed on picnic blankets and clutched oat bars at the finish line – gleeful but knackered – I was planning my post-workout recovery in my head. After implementing some simple techniques, I woke up pleasantly surprised at my lack of pain. From my bed the next morning, I rolled my ankles and squeezed my legs before standing up and didn’t wince. 

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Here are the four things I did during and post-hike to make sure that I wasn’t suffering the next day. They won’t totally see off aching muscles (nor should you want them to – DOMS are there to tell you about your body), but they helped me be not-in-agony after a tough workout. 

1. Use the right kit

Having walking shoes that fit your feet is essential. But I’ve tried shoe after shoe and none seemed to limit my shin splints. So, before walking the half marathon route, I booked in with podiatrist Christophe Champs at PODO.

Listen up high-arched folk: it’s apparently no surprise that we deal with calf, shin and ankle pain. With less weight going through the midfoot, our toes and heels tend to take the bulk of our weight, and the tendons in the ankles and heels work harder to pull the feet back.

Insoles were the answer I didn’t know I needed. PODO makes them on-site during your 90-minute appointment, so they were ready for me to walk in. They supported under my arch so I could actually spread the weight through more of my foot and stop putting my tendons under extra strain. I still felt my tendonitis flaring up, but it was the second time I’d worn the insoles and re-wiring my walking habits probably takes a little more time. And the most important thing is that the next day, my ankle felt fine – a testament to the fact that your feet deserve some thought.

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2. Soak in cold water

Ice baths are something I’ve never tried before, but as soon as I got home from the trek I ran an as-cold-as-possible bath. I didn’t use ice (baby steps) and I only submerged my feet, ankles and calves in the chilly water, but it felt annoyingly good. You see, while you may think that you need a long, hot soak after intense exercise, cold temperatures are actually proven to help muscle recovery: in a 2019 study from the Sport Mont journal, ice baths were shown to remove lactic acid and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) better than massage.

After the chilly temperatures, I let myself have the warm, relaxing bath that my body wanted. This was for both a bit of luxury (feating a Lush massage bar, nonetheless) and recovery: the mixture between cold and hot is also proven to have huge effects on the body’s blood supply, constricting vessels then allowing oxygenated blood to flood the area and reduce inflammation. 

“As we collapsed on the picnic blanket, I was planning my post-walk recovery”

3. Myofascial release

When you go from standing and walking for around seven hours to sitting down for the rest of the evening, is it any surprise that your muscles seize up? While the jury is out on whether foam rolling really can help muscle recovery, I do like using muscular release techniques when I feel like my muscles have the potential to freeze up. I opted for my Theragun, a type of percussive therapy designed to deliver concentrated force to a muscle – much more powerful than a foam roller and much easier to do when you don’t have the energy to roll around.

I concentrated on releasing my calves and hip flexors – the two places I know I get tightness and pain after endurance exercise. There were certain places on my inner calf that were tear-inducing to run over with the gun, probably as a result of over two decades of overworked tendons. But pressing on these trigger points really did result in a release of tension, and I credit it with helping me not feel completely awful the day after.

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4. Eat

It can be easy to not want to eat a lot when on a long walk for many reasons: you don’t want to carry food, you don’t get hungry when continuously moving and you don’t want to stop. So after a day of only small nibbles, my appetite came crashing upon me the second I got in the door. While the easiest thing to do would be to eat never-ending rounds of toast, I knew that my body needed a good supply of macronutrients. Protein, to aid recovery; carbs, to restore my energy; and fats, which are one of the key nutrients used in endurance training. So, I opted for chicken pesto pasta with broccoli and tomatoes to hit all of my nutrients and followed up with chocolate for the dose of sugar and comfort I was so badly craving. 

I think having a good meal full of muscle-loving minerals and macros was essential to my recovery after an active day. Don’t forget to eat right. 

Images: Pexels / Stylist

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