Your training and workouts prepared you well and you ran the best race you could. Whether or not you set a personal best, you should be proud of what you accomplished and are no doubt in need of some well-earned rest and relaxation. Enter a third and equally important ‘R’: recovery.
Recovery is an essential part of any training block and is as important as the training itself. Training is all about applying a stress/stimulus while recovery is about allowing the body to adapt and respond, becoming stronger, faster and more efficient.
After a goal race, you should consider some time completely off running–from just a few days to a few weeks. This is as much a mental break as it is a physical one. Time to rest, refresh, reflect and redevelop that desire to train again. You’ll also be happy to hear that your hard-earned fitness won’t begin to decrease for at least two weeks after you stop running and, even then, only minimally.
Much like the taper before a goal race in which you gradually reduced your total training mileage in the last weeks before race day, a “reverse-taper” should be used when returning to running and which slowly builds your mileage back up after taking some time off.
If you ran a marathon or half, be sure not to run until your legs are entirely free of pain. Pain means the muscles are still damaged and need more rest. Running on tired legs will only delay your return to fitness and sabotage further gains. It’s best to take the extra time off.
Once you feel good again and are ready to run, try an easy run. Slow and short, about 30 minutes. Even if it feels great, take the next day off. Try running every other day for a full week and keep each run between 30-45 minutes, always at an easy pace. You could also try a longer run of about 60 minutes if everything is feeling good.
After two weeks of easy running, you can gradually begin to start doing harder efforts and workouts. Try to keep it only once or twice a week. The best options are more unstructured and less stressful efforts such as fartleks and hill repeats.
Everyone is a bit different but ultimately you should expect to take between two and four weeks after a goal race to build back to a point where you can resume hard training. Be sure to back off at the first sign of injury and don’t be afraid to take extra time off. There will always be another day to train. Beginning a new season fully rested and recovered will go far to helping you accomplish your goals.