Race day is the culmination of weeks and months of hard work, but what you do in the minutes, hours and days following your race play an important role in your ongoing training.
Immediately following the race, make sure your hydration is in check and you eat something. After I finish a hard race, I’m always nauseous and find it difficult to even think of stomaching anything. However, if I don’t make myself eat, I pay for it later in the form of slower recovery and sorer muscles. If you can even eat a piece of fruit or a granola bar, that can do the trick. Also, make sure you get plenty of quality calories later in the day. Getting the right balance of protein, carbs and fats is important.
The pros always preach about ice baths, how good they are and how important it is to get into one within the first twenty minutes after the race. But let’s be realistic here. The average runner doesn’t have access to a hotel suite, ice chest or race crew right on the finish line. That said, there is much value in slipping into an ice bath or shower after a race. Whether it’s when you get back to your hotel room before checking out or when you get home later in the day, it’s going to help ease the swelling, which will speed your recovery.
Another trick I recommend is to drink a protein shake following your race. The sooner, the better. It’s a great way to replace lost fluids and the protein vital to your recovery.
Now let’s talk about running.
Resist the urge to not run in the days after your race. Unless you injured yourself during your race, get out the door for at least a few miles. The day after a marathon or ultra, I’ll try to get out for at least a 3-5 mile recovery run. This loosens up my muscles and clears out any leftover junk from the race.
It’s VERY important to listen to your body though. It is very vulnerable at this point in the recovery process and you should take it easy and even walk if necessary.
Take the next day off. Give your body a chance to rest. If you have to do something, go to the gym or hop on a bike.
Over the next two weeks, start adding miles back in slowly. The week following a marathon, I like to do about half my normal weekly mileage. The second week I’ll do about three-quarters of my normal miles. By week three, if you’ve listened to your body and stayed healthy, you should be ready to resume your normal training regiment.
Another option during the two-week recovery window is to cross train: hop on your bike, do the elliptical or climb stairs.
If you eat right, listen to your body and resist that urge to do nothing, or too little, during your recovery phase, you will stay healthy, teach your muscles to recover more quickly and build your body back stronger than before.
How do you recover from your races? Do you do things differently after a 5k than after a half- or full-marathon? I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below!