Recovery After a Race

CONGRATULATIONS – you did it!  After all those months of training the day finally came and you completed that race you’ve been aiming for. So now what….(besides texting all your friends whilst simultaneously eating chocolate and drinking your favourite hydrating tipple !)?

Often the focus is purely on the race itself, with recovery little more than an afterthought. Depending on how far you’ve just run will obviously have an impact on what your recovery will be like, and of course we are all very different in terms of how it will be.

Firstly, and most importantly, take time out to celebrate what you’ve just accomplished. Okay, so not all races go to plan (believe me, I’ve been there) but try not to be too hard on yourself and reflect, rather than immediately plan your next race (I’ve been there too, but then I didn’t have this blog to hand!).  

Along with the celebrations and reflections, it’s really important to think about immediate recovery.  Have something to eat (more on that to follow). Then, as you all know from our Jog On sessions, it’s really important to stretch – straight away. Don’t be tempted to jump straight in your car and sit on the M25 for an hour, thinking it’ll be ok to stretch when you get home. By then you will have seized up and will be the worse possible advert for running as your neighbours witness you staggering, weeping on all fours, from your car.

Oh and after your stretches and once you’re home, get out the foam roller (vibrating or knobbly), then jump (or tentatively climb) in a warm bath with Epsom salts (or you can go for Andy Murray’s favourite – the ice bath, but I know which one I’d rather choose).

have a relaxing bath

An early night and lots of sleep will definitely be much needed. Don’t forget to drink lots of water during the next few days, whilst admiring your medal and wearing your race T-Shirt, obviously, and of course boring everyone to death about it!

5-10k races

You may want a light snack after the race, such as a protein bar or banana. If there’s a massage available after the race then jump on that table and flush that lactic ACID out of the legs. It’s a good idea to keep walking about during the day – it really does help with your recovery. If you have any electrolyte tablets put some in your water bottle!

Depending on how hard you pushed it on the race and your level of fitness beforehand, try a light jog in the next few days and avoid any interval type training for around 4-5 days, longer if you need it.

Half marathons and marathons

The longer you run for the more stress on your body.  Try and have something that includes carbohydrates, protein and some healthy fats about 30-60 minutes after a race to help with muscle repair and to replenish that depleted glycogen storage. This may take some planning, unless the finish line is next to a convenient café, so make sure you pack something in advance.

This might be a peanut butter sandwich or banana milkshake made with almond milk, for example. Personally, I find it hard to eat anything soon after a race so you may want to find a sports drink that works for you. I’ve found the Tailwind ones are really good (but you wouldn’t find it a best seller in a Michelin star restaurant). Also keep drinking lots of water over the next few days.

drink plenty of water

Many people find wearing compression clothing helpful for those sore muscles (some people even wear them in bed…probably not great on the romance front). A light massage (not one of those deep tissue, painful ones which can cause muscle damage at this stage) in the next few days will really help flush those toxins out and keep you mobile. Don’t forget extra time on that roller!

When can I start running again?

Long distance running is like childbirth – as soon as you’ve finished it you forget the pain and want to do it again. BUT running too soon can increase your chance of injury, so be careful. The advice varies, you may have read taking one day off per mile or even a kilometre. However, this actually means no intense running.  Many advise on 1-3 days off for a half marathon distance and a week off after a marathon, which has worked for me in the past.

Everyone is different, so listen to your body.  If you have a lot of soreness to the muscles (DOMS), then obviously take more time. It’s certainly a good idea to avoid any high intensity running for a few weeks after a marathon (a week or so for a half) and until any soreness has gone.

Even if you’re not running, try walking, swimming or cycling for 30-60 minutes at a low intensity. Activity will help you recover faster as it promotes the circulation, which means an increase in oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and removing waste materials.

low intensity cycling

Some people advise ‘reverse tapering’ to rebuild your mileage over the next few weeks. So for a marathon, for example, the first weekend long run would be 6 miles. Tune into your body – if you’re sounding like a locomotive or your heart rate feels like it’s climbed too much then slow down/reduce your mileage. Remember, you’re still fatigued and recovering. You are your best guide.

Not running again, for now?

I know people who have run a Half or a full Marathon and never run another step again. They ran for a charity and achieved their goal. Or they hated the training so much, or got injured, or loved/hated the whole experience they don’t feel they need to continue running.

Whatever the reason, give yourself time out to reassess your goals.  Talk to friends, or your friendly Jog On coaches, about how you’re feeling about the race, what went well and what didn’t work out so much. Take time to reflect, do something different if you need to, run with friends for fun without having to ‘stick to a plan’, ice and rest that injury, build on strength (did we tell you we run a Strength for Runners class?!). Hopefully over time you will rediscover your love of running, or just your love of the tea and cake at the end with like-minded friends, after a little jogette through the woods.