Congratulations! You’ve just finished your goal race, and now it’s time to bask in the afterglow of your journey — until you start another one. If you like to race, then you’re probably familiar with the cycle of working hard toward a goal, completing it, recovering from it and then building back up again.
Recovering from racing, no matter the distance, is an important part of your training. Like rest days, recovery plans should be taken seriously. Factors such as how far, how fast and how injured you are from your race will determine what you should do the days or weeks following a hard effort.
Use the following, based on distance, as a guide to recover and rebuild your racing body:
Sure, it’s one of the shortest distances you can race, but because the 5K is built for speed, it can take quite a toll on your muscles and mind.
Running plan: Take a day off from running completely or go for a very easy, short run the day after the race. Resume regular running two days out and resume speed and/or hill work 2-4 days later.
Stretching plan: Stretching is key immediately after the race. Continue to lengthen those muscles by walking and keep the blood flowing as much as possible in the 24 hours following the race.
Eating plan: Fluids are a must immediately upon finishing and throughout the following 24 hours. Be sure to get some good carbs and protein into your system within 30 minutes of the race. Post-race food is handed out for a reason!
Racing six miles is a great distance. You can fit training into almost any schedule, and on race day, you can complete the distance and probably still meet friends for brunch.
Running plan: Keep those muscles moving by walking or easy running the day after. No hills, no speed and no GPS watch – just have fun! Resume harder efforts 3-5 days out.
Stretching plan: If you can tolerate an ice bath, it will help to reduce any swelling in your joints or muscles. Be sure to stretch out all major muscle groups directly after the race and keep it up that night and into the next morning.
Eating plan: You need hydration and protein to rebuild what you have torn down. Think about eating in a way that will restore vital nutrients to repair your muscles and drinking to increase blood flow and help speed recovery.
This distance is a substantial effort, and recovery from it should respect that exertion.
Running plan: You may not want to think about going for a run, but it’s important to keep your legs moving and blood flowing. Immediately after you cross the finish line, keep walking! If you have a slightly longer distance to walk to your car, take advantage of it. The more you can move post-race, the better your tomorrow will be.
It’s absolutely OK to take a few days off following a half marathon and to continue shorter, less strenuous efforts for up to a week. Swimming and biking are excellent choices during this time since they remove further pounding on your joints.
Stretching plan: Treat yourself to a massage, just not too soon afterward. Unless you are injured, you may want to wait 1-2 days to start working on those tired muscles, but ice and/or heat on sore spots will help right away.
Again, keep moving, stretch and roll as much as possible in the days following a half marathon but be careful of doing too much to extra sore or hurt spots. A lot of pain relief can come from walking and being normally active throughout your day.
Eating plan: Hydration should come into your body in every possible way – water, fruits and veggies. You will want to eat plenty of protein as well and if you’re having stomach issues, keep it simple with baked chicken or a burger. Your body has worked hard enough so give it some protein-packed foods that are easily digestible and can do double hydration duty!
This is the big one! Your recovery plan should match this colossal effort.
Running plan: This may be something you don’t even want to think about for a little bit since walking down the stairs is kicking your butt. Understood. You should move as much as possible, no matter how slowly, and ease back into running when your body is ready. You will know.
Stretching plan: Massage is a great way to spend the 2-3 days post-race when you should be resting and recovering. Stretch and roll as much as you can at home and don’t forget to stretch and refocus your mind as well. Most likely, the marathon was your ultimate training goal for the past several months. Let your mind soak in your accomplishment and don’t be too hasty about planning another lofty goal. Time is your friend in the days and weeks after tackling 26.2.
Eating plan: You will want to eat as much as possible, and yes, you deserve a reward, but don’t go overboard. Have a celebratory meal, eat your favorite dessert and then shift your focus back to recovery foods – carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes!
Every runner is different, and I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your own body. This guide was written for anyone who is not injured post-race, since injury takes on a whole different recovery route.
The more you train and race, the more quickly you will learn to read the signs of a recovered, ready-to-run body and mind!
How do you recover from racing?