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

Weight Gain after your race, etc?

Let’s discuss weight gain after your race.  First, I’m not a doctor, just a certified endurance running coach, so please don’t bet your health on my comments below as I can’t see you and don’t know your medical history!

With that said, here is what my experience and training tell me about the weight gain after a long run or race (some experience this more than others): 1) it’s likely water retention which can be caused by a few different reasons (see below), and 2) do not go on a diet to get rid of the extra weight as it will likely go away on it’s own, and you need the proper diet in order to help your body repair itself after your long run/race in order to be better and stronger than before!

The water retention could be caused by being dehydrated (you didn’t drink enough during your race), and/or it could be your body retaining water to help it in it’s repair work, and it could also be made worse by overloading with carbs prior to race day. Carbs at the optimum time and in the proper quantity and quality are important for full marathoners for sure, but many half marathoners can store enough energy reserves via their normal healthy died to last their entire race.  Half marathoners do not usually “hit the wall” for that reason.  Teaching your body to use carbs more efficiently and to be able to store more are parts of a well designed training plan.  If your’ training plan didn’t help you with that, you need a new one, or at least a knowledgeable advisor  who can help guide you in that area.

BTW – The DOMS which many of you are also reporting is a good indication of the water retention being due in some part by the repair process which is underway in your body   (DOMS = Delayed On-set Muscle Soreness).

One word of caution on eating post race. While you do need to eat well after your race to aid in your recovery, you should also make sure that you are adjusting the portions to fit your lower activity level, or the water retention weight will be replaced by fat storage.

In general, the water weight will go away over the next few days/weeks so don’t worry about that.

If you are sore for more than 3-4 days you should see a medical practitioner to ensure that you are not injured, but most times the DOMS will go away on it’s own  (just think of your runners waddle as a badge of honor!).

Oh yes, stay hydrated!  Some athletes think that since they have gained excess water weight they don’t need to drink anything.  Wrong!  Drink if you’re thirsty and make sure that your urine is a pale yellow color.

Your race didn’t end at the finish line, you are still dealing with it and these days can make a big difference in your recovery.

A good training plan will detail a post-race strategy as it’s very important to your recovery and future racing. If you don’t have one, please do some research on the internet, speak with a good sports medicine practitioner or ask here for advise.

I hope the above overview of this topic is helpful.  There’s plenty of general info available on the internet.  Since I’m not your coach (I don’t know any specifics about you from having worked together throughout your training), I can only provide general answers to general topics, but I’d be happy to help guide you with a general discussion of other running related topics, if that would be helpful to each of you.

I ask that you consider engaging with health care professionals (Nutritionist, Physical Therapist, Message Therapist, Sports Medicine Specialist, etc. as required to provide specific guidance). You are part of the small number of endurance athletes (many doctors don’t have much experience working with us as our numbers are relatively small – about 1% of the total population and an even smaller portion of that number for full marathoners).

I am in awe of what each of you have accomplished, and even after all these years, your stories, trials and tribulations amaze and humble me.  You are my inspiration and I thank you for that!  I mean everyone, from our race champions to the back of the pack athletes – if you are giving it your all and a bit more, you are a winner and I admire your accomplishments.

Best wishes,

Joe

RRCA Certified Endurance Running Coach
Executive Race Director,
The New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch Half Marathon and Half Marathon Relay