Following the marathon, I was pretty sore from say... the waist down. Actually, the hips were okay, but the tendons behind my knees (or at least that is what I was told by some of my colleagues at the university who teach kineseology and anatomy) were pretty tight. Not to mention my calves—which are already freakishly large according to my wife—felt swollen and stiff as well. I started to think about compression socks. Would that aid in recovery? Would race compression socks stave off some of my late race calf cramping? I started reading about both race and recovery compression socks in the usual triathlete and running magazines. Here is what I've learned:
The Theory: During a race, the body tries to pump blood to all of the extremities as equally as it can. However, over time, gravity causes blood to pool in the lower legs and feet often leading to fatigue and leg cramps. The rationale behind the socks are that they increase endurance capacity by enhancing venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump. And there is also the belief that because muscles are kept more compact, balance is improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.
The evidence: According to a study conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, there is no statistically significant differences in heart rate, or maximal oxygen consumption for runners who wore compression socks than those who did not on a treadmill test. However, runners who wore compression socks did have a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise suggesting a speedier recovery rate after a strenuous workout or race.
The Conclusion: Whatever the case, of the 1732 athletes that competed at the 2008 Ironman World Championship in Kona, 417 of them wore compression socks. From what I can tell, more and more athletes are subscribing to compression socks and that should not be taken lightly either.
Unfortunately, compression socks by manufacturers like SLS, Zoot and 2XU are expensive, averaging at around $54 hard earned American dollars. Which begs the question, will the $14 pair of compression socks from my neighborhood Rite Aid work just as well? I do not know if I am going to spend the dough just yet. Prior to running the marathon, I hadn't really had any soreness unless I was coming off of a really long training run (13+ miles.) There are so many other things that I could spend the money. I am starting to put a few more dollars in my piggy bank every week in the hopes that I will one day purchase an "affordable" tri bike.