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How long does it take your body to recover after a 5K race?

Racing a 5K does not require as much recovery as you think

St. Patrick's Day 5K

After you finish a 5K, it’s tempting to immediately stop or sit down, but you want to try to keep moving to avoid the build-up of lactic acid in your legs and to kickstart the recovery process. Post-race recovery is something many runners don’t consider before their race, since runners focus, first and foremost, on getting to the finish line. But it’s important to give your body time to recover after a hard effort (like a race)–to heal, repair and become stronger. Allowing adequate time for recovery can ultimately help prevent injuries and improve your fitness.

Rum Runners Relay start in 2019. Photo: Andrew Wagstaff

But racing a 5K might not require as much recovery as you think. The general rule of thumb for this distance is to take one day of rest per mile raced. Therefore, after a 5K, most runners will require a recovery period of two to four days.

The rest period does not mean to halt all running or exercise, but definitely a break from speedwork and high-intensity training. Rest days can include easy runs, swimming, biking and even lifting weights at the gym at an easy intensity level.

The reason easy exercise is encouraged during recovery is that it helps bring essential nutrients and oxygen to your soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) and blood flow to repair the body. If exercise is done at a low intensity it will not stress the body any further.

The best approach is to address your recovery as it happens. See how your body feels the morning after your race, and if you are pain-free, try a 20- to 30-minute easy run or 30 minutes on the bike. On days two and three of post-race recovery, your body should give you an idea if there are any nagging aches or pains, or if you are ready to resume training. By the fourth day, your body should feel recovered and you should be able to resume your usual training routine.

It’s important to note that everyone will deal with post-race recovery differently and to listen to your body. If you feel you need additional days off or more easy days, take them.