Post Race Recovery Planning

Here are some of the questions I often get from runners in general after their races (my students know the answers to these questions prior to their races).

Q1) What should I be doing/not doing during the post race period to enhance my recovery!
Q2) When can I start running again, how often should I run and how far?
Q3) When can I start doing speed/hill workouts again?
Q4) How soon can I run my next race?

Unfortunately I can only give you generic guidelines as everyone is different and I don’t know anything about you.  Generic guidelines are sure not to be exactly right for anyone, but here goes! As with almost all of these questions there are many variables to consider, such as:

1) how long have you been running?
2) how much of a mileage base do you have?
3) which race did you just run?
4) how hard did you run it – are you a completer or are you competitive with others or with yourself?
5) have you run other races recently?
6) how old are you? etc.

BTW – “run” above also may apply to run/walk intervals as well, but the lingering effect of that technique is not usually as long lasting as a long run/race with 100% running.

Half Marathoners (25 miles per week peak mileage, running for less then 1 year).  I’d suggest to take off 1 day for each mile run – that’s about 2 weeks before starting any serious running. Get plenty of sleep, hydrate well at all times, eat a healthy diet with emphasis on quality protein, carbs and fiber and the good fats, AND cut down on the portions! You may feel tired and sore for the first few days (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – DOMS).  Avoid sick people as much as possible during this period.  You may also feel low/slightly depressed (that’s normal as your body has been trained to expect exercise regularly, and you don’t have a big, bad scary goal in front of you any longer!). If you don’t have DOMS, you feel good in a couple of days, please err on the side of caution. Once the soreness is gone, think about a fun run of a few miles, but don’t set a mileage or pace goal (20 minutes is a good place to start), and leave your distance and pace calculator at home or off!  If this run doesn’t feel like fun, take a couple of more days off and try it again.  When the joy of running has returned, add another fun run after a couple of days off.  Repeat until every one of these runs are easy and fun and you’re neither sore nor tired afterward.  This process should only take you a week or two.  However, if the joy of running doesn’t come back then look for a reason and make a change.  If you usually run alone, find a group or a buddy to run with, but only if you can run at your slow recovery pace with them (it’s not the time to show off by trying to run fast as they may not be in recovery mode). Choose a different route or run your favorite route backwards, etc. Pay attention to your mental state also.

Full Marathoners (35-40 miles per week peak mileage, running for less than 2 years). I’d suggest to take off 1 day for each mile run – that’s about 4 weeks before starting any serious running. Get plenty of sleep, hydrate well at all times, eat a healthy diet with emphasis on quality protein, carbs and fiber and the good fats, AND cut down on the size of the portion! You will likely have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – DOMS for a few days. Some people enjoy light yoga and/or a message can help and both is even better (be careful of deep tissue work yet – the second week could be time to keep the blood flowing into the the damaged areas). You have a high likelihood of becoming ill as your immune system may be significantly weakened.   Avoid group settings as much as possible and wash your hands often.  The most important thing is to be aware of the increased possibility and try to avoid situations which will expose you to the greatest risk. Once you can walk normally and are not tired, likely after the following weekend (for a Saturday or Sunday race), think about a fun run of a few miles, but don’t set a mileage or pace goal and leave your distance and pace calculator at home or off (20 minutes is about right).  If this doesn’t feel like fun, take a couple of more days off and try it again.  When the joy of running has returned, add another fun run after a couple of days off.  Repeat until every one of these runs are easy and fun and you’re neither sore nor tired afterward.  This process should only take you a couple of weeks, but could take longer.  If the joy of running doesn’t come back then look for a reason and make a change.  I.e., if you usually run alone, find a group or a buddy to run with, but only if you can run at your slow recovery pace with them (it’s not the time to show off by trying to run fast as they may not be in recovery mode). Choose a different route or run your favorite route backwards, etc.  Pay attention to your mental state also, as that could need attention also.

Experienced athletes:  Specific questions should be posted here and I’ll do my best to answer them. For more experienced people which I train, their recovery, after about a week for a marathoner, usually looks a lot like a reverse taper (the reverse of the last three weeks of their training plan). I hope that answers most of your questions, but if not please let me know.

Remember, I don’t know anything about you and therefore can only give generic guidelines. My experience, my professional ethics and my professional insurance will not allow me to provide specific coaching advise as it is not possible for me to know the best answer for you without having spent time observing your training over an extended period of time. However I can provide the range of possibilities which I have seen work for many different athletes, if that is helpful to you in formulating your plan.

So, how long before I can do speed/hill work again and when can I start training for my next race?  I’m glad that you may be thinking about this already, as that’s a good sign.  I would wait until the end of the 2 or 4 weeks to start anything like that. Can some people start up sooner, sure.  I’d err on the side of caution as you want the repair process to complete before you start the stresses again. Done improperly, you will eventually break down, as this stress is cumulative, and with it you may get injured in a seemingly instantaneous manner, when in fact the injury is the result of the cumulative effect of over training for a number of weeks/months. If you plan to generally follow my advise then start your intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats gently and add to them slowly while listening to your body.

I hope that’s not too much info at once.  In summary, don’t worry about temporary muscle soreness as it will go away, expect to get back into running slowly, don’t be surprised if you feel a bit down, watch out for the effects of a temporarily impaired immune system, and sleep, hydrate, eat in proportion to your reduced activity level.  You should be ready to get back into it within the guidelines.  BTW – you have attained a relatively high state of physical conditioning, and a few well chosen weeks of rest and easy running will not put your back at the beginning in training for your next race.

Congratulations and best wishes,

Joe

2 thoughts on “Post Race Recovery Planning

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