Racing Wisely: Postrace Recovery

As the major spring running races wrap up, many of us have extra free time on our hands as we recover. Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, Racing Wisely, with ideas on when and how to get back into the swing after your key race.

Returning to Training

Katy and Marne starting the runWhether you raced to your personal best, fell short of your goals, or did not finish, the temptation is usually to return to racing too quickly. If you did well, you are excited by the possibilities of going even faster, or even longer, or placing even higher. If you did not do well, you are possessed with the drive for vindication. Overcome the urge to train again too soon by staying busy in other ways—catching up on the work you’d put on hold while you traveled for the race, or the chores around the house that have gone neglected.

When soreness is gone, you’ve had time to catch up on sleep and chores, and you are eager to return to routine, start with a week or more of easy workouts. I call these “empty container” workouts when I prescribe them to my athletes: they are all easy, all short, but cleave to the regular schedule that has worked in the past or that you want to establish for the next training cycle. For example, if you are used to running five days a week, you’ll add these runs back in, but all easy. If you are used to swimming Mondays and Thursdays, riding Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and running Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, gradually return to the schedule, but with no intensity.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: for every hour your race took, it will take that many weeks to be recovered to push yourself hard again. For example, if you ran a 10K, you may be ready to train hard or even race again in a week. But if you have run a four-hour marathon, or a twelve-hour Ironman, it’s going to take four weeks, twelve weeks, or more before you are ready to give your best effort again, even in a workout. I cover postrace recovery timelines in detail in The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery.