Recently, we’ve discussed tips for both pre- and post-race nutrition, but your fuel really only part of the equation. While the temptation might be to sit down or – more likely – collapse once you’ve blown across the finish line, this will eventually backfire. Sure, many other athletes may immediately sit down to a big recovery meal but this really isn’t an effective strategy. In the piece about post-race nutrition we discussed the digestive problems that come along with these big meals but the very act of sitting could be an issue as well. These runners will have an extremely difficult recovery, I promise.
So, how should you handle yourself after your race? Is there something you can do to speed up recovery? How long should you give yourself to recover?
After a short race, like a 5k or 10k, give yourself a chance to cool down. This is an extremely necessary and woefully neglected step following both workouts and competitions alike. Especially during a run, your blood is being rushed all throughout your body. When that activity stops abruptly, like when you cross the finish and vow to never run again, your blood has the unfortunate tendency to pool in your legs. Blood-flow to your upper-body and brain is then slowed to a glacial pace that is to blame for the dizziness and lightheadedness that you might feel after your workout.
This isn’t such a high priority following a marathon, though. After such a long, demanding race, you need food and water as soon as possible. Your cooldown can wait until you are properly refueled.
Your cooldown doesn’t have to be anything elaborate and should, actually, be pretty easy. Walk around at a slow pace, pause every once in a while to chat with other runners; Just don’t stand still.
Now you should stretch. Your muscles and connective tissue will still be warm and limber, so this is the perfect chance to do some light static stretches. Of course, your legs should be the focus here – you did just run, after all – but don’t forget other muscles that commonly tense up during runs. Many runners tighten their shoulders and back while running so neglecting these muscles after a race will leave you feeling even more stiff then normal in the days that follow.
While your cooldown and stretching will help alleviate some of your soreness, it won’t eliminate it. You are going to be sore after a race and there’s just no way around it. Taking these steps, though, will help you to be significantly less sore than if you have skipped your immediate recovery.
Later That Day
A few hours after your run, make time for a so-called “shake-out” run or walk. Even if you’ve flushed your system by chugging several gallons of water and lovingly cooled down, your muscles are going to be stiff later in the day. This is especially true if you took a nap or step a long period of time in your car driving home from the even.
Essentially, this “shake-out” is meant to just loosen you up. It is not a workout. Take it easy and slowly walk for no more than 20 minutes.
So, you’ve followed all these steps and want to know when you get run again? That all depends on you, actually.
Specifically, the answer depends on what kind of race you just finished and what sort of workout you’re itching to do. Following a 5k, for example, you should wait 2 days before performing an easy workout and 5 days before tackling a hard workout.
For a marathon runner, though, these numbers shoot way up. You should give yourself 9 recovery days before even an easy workout and a full 27 before going out for a hard workout.