For runners who like to compete in races, a lot of attention is typically spent on training, gear and race selection, with less thought – if any – to race recovery. Every race, no matter the distance, requires adequate recovery to help minimize overtraining, injuries and burnout, as well as to keep you performing well in future competitions. As quoted in Runner’s World, Corey Hart, a physiologist and doctoral candidate at the University of Utah’s Vascular Research Lab, “What you do to recover after a race plays a big role in how you will perform at the next one.”
Runner’s World offers the following recommendations after finishing a half-marathon or full marathon; obviously they can be adapted accordingly for shorter or longer races. The key is to know your own body and recognize that each event is different, but race recovery in some form is critically important.
First 24 Hours
Within 30 minutes after race completion, try a high-carb drink with protein, as the muscles are particularly receptive at this time and you can replenish glycogen stores. Then continue later with rehydration – some recommend one quart of fluid for every half-hour of running – and minimize alcohol intake, which hinders rehydration. Eat food rich in carbs and protein to stimulate muscle repair. Bananas offer potassium, and sports drinks provide potassium and sodium, which are important electrolytes to replenish.
For the body, walk around a bit for 15-30 minutes to keep the blood flowing. Later, lying down with your legs resting up a wall or taking an ice bath can help reduce swelling in the lower body. Gentle foam rolling can improve circulation, as can compression clothing. Light stretches also can stimulate blood flow and help reduce stiffness. Avoid the extremes of many hours on the couch or running around all day.
Reflect on your accomplishment and celebrate (even if you didn’t PR) to combat the big drop in endorphins. And of course, rest and sleep plenty.
1-3 Days After
Light exercise, such as going for a walk, constitutes active recovery and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Compression clothing continues to provide support and stretching can help improve range of motion. If you get a massage, don’t go for deep tissue at this point, but keep it to a Swedish style to avoid doing any more damage to the muscles.
And continue to mentally process your race – the good, the not-so-good and your overall feelings – so you can learn from this experience and make any necessary adjustments in training or your next event.
3-7 Days After
If you trained hard and raced just as hard, you may still be feeling fatigue that has built up before and during the race, and which may have created some hormone imbalances. Even though you may be feeling antsy to return to workouts, maintain light recovery during this period to help restore hormone balance.
Don’t feel guilty about the fatigue, but ensure that you rest as a smart, proactive way to prepare for your next race. Recognize that this period is temporary, and soon enough, you’ll be hitting it hard again.
7-21 Days After
Now is the time that most runners crave, where they can begin running again, slowly increasing intensity and continuing active recovery and rest days. And if you’re not ready to run yet, then don’t force yourself to.
Cross training is another valuable way to address weak links, benefit from overall conditioning and provide variety for your body and mind. Enjoy a bit of flexibility in your training at this point, and consider your next goals and how you’re going to achieve them.