Whether you smashed your personal best, ran a new distance or just ran for fun, it’s important to take your post-race recovery seriously.
Regardless of the distance you ran, be it a 5K, half or the marathon, how you approach post-race recovery should be treated very similar.
Rejean Chiasson is a former Canadian marathon champion and the current coach of a Toronto-based running club Pace and Mind. “If you trained properly for your race and truly pushed your limits, you need to take time to recover, regardless of distance.” He adds that “you need to recover both mentally and physically. It can be easy to forget the mental side of this recovery period.”
This advice refers specifically to recovery after an important goal race, that likely took several months of training. For races treated as workouts or done without a taper, Rejean notes that between two-and-four days, or a week at most, of easy running or active recovery should be sufficient to get back into normal training. But he does advise using caution: “If your body is asking for more recovery, listen to it. The number one goal of any training plan should be to get you to your race healthy.”
Here is a more detailed schedule for how to approach your post-(goal) race recovery period:
For shorter races between 5K and the half-marathon distance, take at least one but preferably up to three days completely off running (even if you feel you don’t need to). You can of course do some light cross-training such as walking, hiking or cycling as active recovery, but absolutely no running. For the rest of the week you can begin to return to your usual frequency of runs, but stick to only 30 or so minutes of very easy running and consider taking a day off in between.
For the marathon distance, Rejean recommends taking five to seven days off from running. A week without running may seem like a lot but be assured that your body and your mind will be better off in the long run. Even if you feel okay physically (i.e. no muscle/joint pain), racing takes a major toll on your body including to the immune and nervous system which takes more time to recover.
Rejean’s post-race advice: Treat yourself by getting a massage during this first week. It’s a great way to speed up the recovery process. Also, “don’t go ‘too crazy’ with your post-race eating/diet. You’ve worked really hard and definitely deserve to treat yourself, but bingeing and eating unhealthy foods will only abuse the body further. “Be good to the body that has been so good to you” says Rejean.
It’s usually by this time that runners begin to start feeling motivated to get back at it. However, it’s absolutely essential that they take it mostly easy for at least another week.
Rejean advises his runners not to do any structured workouts for two full weeks after a big race. Instead he suggests they build their frequency of runs back to normal and keep them to between 30 and 45 minutes at an easy and comfortable pace. Experienced runners could consider running for up to an hour. If by the end of the week runners are starting to get impatient or feeling frisky, Rejean allows them to try a few faster pick-ups or strides in the middle or near the end of one or two of their runs.
The number of runs are now about the same as they were when training, but total volume should be between 50 and 75 per cent of peak mileage. Runners can begin doing structured workouts again, but should scale back the overall intensity and duration of these efforts as it can still take a few weeks before the body is fully and completely recovered.
Rejean’s final piece of advice is to respect the body and the fitness you worked so hard to develop. Give it the time it needs to fully recover and most importantly, enjoy the rest and downtime before you commence hard training again.