How To Recover After A Race

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After signing up for a race and setting a goal, most runners focus on preparation for race day. Training, injury prevention, tapering, all is done to be as ready as possible on the day where it counts.

But what happens after a race?

It is worth to spend some time on what the next steps are after you cross that finish line. Especially plan your recovery and how you can go back to planning and training for your next running adventure.

In this post I’ll share a chronological recovery guide you can use to be ready to run at full force again after your next race.

1. The First Hour

The most important thing right after you crossed the finish line is to enjoy the emotions and be proud of what you’ve just pulled of.

The great feelings and post run buzz should be one of the most important reasons why you race in the first place. So enjoy this moment of finishing to the fullest.

Except celebrating your success, it is key to rehydrate. Even though you might had something to drink during the race, it’s likely not enough. So make sure to refill shortly after you finished.

Preferably try to drink some sort of isotonic drinks. These not only provide you with fluid but also with the needed minerals. Also isotonic drinks help you to refill your carbohydrate stores so your body doesn’t need to tap it’s reserve and burn your bodies own protein.

2. Before You Go to Sleep

There are three things to do in your post-race recovery procedure before going to sleep. Two are mandatory and one is optional.

The first thing you should do is an obvious one: Eat! And eat healthy stuff!

Sure making your race day a cheat day when it comes to food is totally ok. That Pizza or Burger is well deserved. However I still recommend to get in some healthy food not just what you crave for.

The best would be a well-balanced dinner. A nice plate with vegetables, some carbs (pasta, potatoes, etc.) and a good portion of proteins (lean meat like chicken or plant based proteins). And a fruity dessert.

The second important thing is stretching. This not only helps to avoid shortened muscles and muscular dysbalances but also just feels great after some tough work for your muscles.

Do an extended stretching program including your calves, quads, hamstrings, hips, inner thigh and IT band. Stretch every muscle at least 2x 30 seconds.

An optional but great thing to do is getting a massage or foam roll. This loosens thight muscles and increases blood flow so the nutrients can get faster to the damaged muscle tissue and thus recover faster.

To increase blood flow you can also switch between cold and hot water in the shower. Switch every minute and make sure you shower every of your exhausted body parts.

3. Days After Your Race

In the first days after your race, make sure you don’t force any tough running workouts. Instead keep a healthy diet and do regular recovery activities.

I especially like foam rolling or (self-)massaging my leg muscles. This is one of the best things to do to loose tight spots in your muscles and make sure blood flow is increased.

You can do 2-3 foam rolling sessions of about 15 minutes the day after the race. And then depending on how you feel, keep that schedule or cut it to one 15 minute session in the following days.

Another important thing is to get enough sleep. A good and healthy sleep is very important after putting your body to the stress of a race or a very tough workout. Try to sleep more than average the day after your race. Go to bed early and avoid anything that can decrease sleep quality like alcohol.

You can also start to do easy active recovery activities. That doesn’t mean you can get back to training all the way. But easy recovery runs or cross training might speed up your recovery.

I usually go for extended walks or go on short, low intensity cycling tours. Also swimming and easy hikes, or slow runs can be great. Just make sure you don’t overstrain your locomotive system too much.

4. Recovery Weeks

How long it takes until you are fully recovered, relies on several factors. Mostly it’s about how well your body is trained and used to racing or heavy workouts. And the other thing is the race itself.

It’s obvious that as an avid runner you won’t need to recover for more than a couple of days after a 5k race. But things look quite differently after your first marathon or trail race.

I’m always amazed how the body can not only achieve great running feats but also how it can adapt to it and recover faster the more it is used to the same kind of race or training.

When I think back to the days after my first marathon I remember I had a hard time. For about 2-3 days, I was barely able to walk. Now, running a marathon is like a training run and I just have a bit of sore muscles and heavy legs for 2-3 day.

In these days and weeks of recovery try to not only focus on your body but also on the mental side of things.

Racing and finishing can also be tough mentally and dealing and reflecting upon the things you’ve experienced is important for your future as a runner.

Some ultra mountain races are sure hard to my body but they might be even harder mentally and can really drain me. And sometimes it takes longer to process a race in your head and get your running mojo back as it takes your body to recover.

5. Back to Full Training

Finally I guess you also want to go back to full training. Even if you are a beginner and just completed your first race, I hope you see the point in regular running and are now hungry for more.

Recovery can be a tricky thing though. If you are not very experience and are just getting to know your athletic body, it’s quite hard to know when you are fully recovered and can put even more workload on your body.

Key is, that you don’t rush anything and take enough time. Just if your legs are not sore anymore doesn’t mean that you’re completely up and running again. Your body might still be on its way to normals if you already feel quite good.

I recommend not to go back to your next training plan and thus regular workload from one day to another. Make it a transition over a couple of weeks.

Get slowly back to running with recovery runs and week after week get one of those heavy or long workouts back into your schedule. Test these workouts and closely look how you feel in the days after.

Final Words

After all it’s your body and you should know it best. Just listen to your body and its signals and trust your feeling.

What is your favorite thing to do during recovery? And what proofed to be the best way to speed up your recovery process? Let us know in the comment section.

And as always, if you like this article, it would mean a lot if you could share it with your friends!

Happy running,
mikula

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