We’ve seen it all over the years and we are all are guilty of some silly behavior after a race!
Here are the extremes:
Right after the race, you will eat ALL the food and drink ALL the beer and then retire to the couch for the rest of the day and possibly the rest of the week if not longer. “I’m recovering” you say loudly to anyone who will listen including yourself!
Right after the race, you can’t look at food without the thought of hurling. So, hours later, maybe you have a snack. The next day you don’t feel sore at all so you are back out to hammering workouts. “I don’t need recovery” you say loudly to anyone who will listen including yourself.
Do you recognize yourself?
Balance and Moderation
Recovery from races is an area we see that most athletes (including ourselves) can improve. We prefer to see someone go into an event slightly undertrained as we know the excitement of race day will help pull you along. This is way better than going into a race tired or over trained and feeling sluggish and flat. No amount of race mojo can help with that. Most athletes tend to under-recover after a race and we would prefer that you invest more time in recovery and work towards a more balanced approach. Well thought out recovery will ensure that you are ready to go on race day for your goal event.
Everyone is different in their recovery and it’s best to err on the side of caution. Even if you did a shorter race for “fun” you are generally running the race harder than you would run most workouts. Workouts tend to have built-in breaks like rest intervals, traffic lights, and water stops. Races push you to work harder for far longer than you would normally work in a workout. That’s great! A good race can be a fitness boost and absolutely can be an important part of training, but it’s best to be conscious of recovery in the hours, days and (sometimes) weeks following.
Enjoy the afterglow of a good race! This is a great time to celebrate a little with food and drink and enjoy the spirit of post-race ambiance. Make sure to plan for something with protein and carbs soon after a race. If you cannot typically stomach food after a hard workout, figure out something that you can drink that has protein and carbs to start recovery. Chocolate milk is a favorite go to for many for just this reason. Plant-based milks will also do just fine but check for one that has more protein. Your body has worked hard and needs to be replenished.
It’s tempting to do a lot of sitting after a hard race but really, active recovery starts immediately and is one of the most important things you can do. Some easy short walks can help promote blood flow and recovery. Especially if you are driving after an event, plan for an extra break to stretch the legs.
Everyone is different in how they recover from races and since races themselves are so different it’s best to approach race recovery anew each time.
Things to think about that might help you decide what is best for you:
Are you sore? Are you tired and maybe even a bit grumpy in the days following? Are you tired because your sleep is disrupted? Are you not hungry at all or starving? These are all clear signs that you are still recovering.
Just because you are recovering this does not mean we want you to stop all workouts! The weeks after a race can be a great time to both mentally and physically take a break from the rigid training schedule and instead look at activity as play. Check in with your body and go for some easy rides, runs, water classes or cross training (whatever is appropriate for you).
Maybe try that gentle recovery yoga class your friend wants to do or go for a walk with someone you want to catch up with. Our training takes a lot of time; this recovery period is a great time to catch up with friends or family. Be cautious of adding in some new higher intensity or strength building gym class, taking up something like rock climbing or mountain climbing or even catching up with all the yard work you have put off for a month. It is tempting as you suddenly have time but remember RECOVERY.
In your workouts during this time don’t be intent on hitting a particular pace or a particular distance. Head out and see how you feel and be okay with keeping it short and easy or running as far as the coffee shop and stopping for coffee! Again, easy movement can help you feel better (mentally and physically) and can help you on the recovery road.
If you are a more experienced athlete and were using a race as a training workout you may have some actual workouts scheduled in the weeks following an event. Approach any workout with particular paces with caution. Remember you know your body better than we do and you know how you are feeling. Is your knee a little sore, your quad tight or your foot a little twingy? Have you been tired? Communicate this with your coach as this is a the best way to make sure you are getting what you need. Just because a workout is written does not mean it has to be done.
Maybe the race was exactly the boost you needed to help with leg turnover, etc and coming back to a workout makes that workout feel easier! This is certainly the best case scenario. For some though, they may find when attempting a workout in the week or two following a race that their legs feel dead. Acknowledge this and back-off if needed.
What other activities can you do to help promote recovery? This is a great time to schedule a massage. A skilled massage therapist can help promote blood flow and ease tension and probably find areas you weren’t even aware needed attention! Make sure to communicate with your massage therapist about your race. If your massage is within a few days of your race, adjust what pressure works for you.
Some athletes like to use cool baths or ice baths to promote recovery. There are different schools of thought on the value of this and the research is not clear so really it comes down to how it makes you feel. The idea behind the cold bath is to decrease inflammation, flush out the muscles and increase circulation. Give it a try and see how it works for you.
If recovery means you are cutting back workouts, be aware of cutting back calories and hydration. This is not a time to cut back or diet. Even though you may not be quite as active, your body still needs more than you think as it is trying to heal all the microtears in the muscles that are part of a harder effort. Eat plenty of protein as well as carbs and healthy fats. Plan for your regular snacks and don’t be surprised if you are thirstier than usual.
Sleep!! The body repairs when you sleep so during recovery, sleep is more important than ever. It is one of those things that we often overlook or dismiss and don’t consider an actual part of our training. With the extra time you have, look to add more sleep in. If you are not a good sleeper work on ways to help you unwind a little earlier or try some new things to see if you can find what will help you sleep better
Are you afraid of losing fitness? Many athletes have the idea that if they aren’t immediately back to workouts after a goal event or hard race effort, they will immediately start losing fitness. Don’t worry, all your hard earned gains will not disappear overnight. The research is complicated but the things to know are that initially you will lose some fitness. Mainly you lose anaerobic fitness you gained just in the last few weeks and that can be trained back up easily. After an initial drop in certain fitness components the body slows down this process and even after several weeks you will have a much higher level of fitness than when you started.
The other thing research is clear on is that if one does not take time to recover after long or hard efforts almost always it will result in injury somewhere down the road and a longer period of time off. We guarantee the forced time off for much longer than a mindful recovery period will result in a greater loss of fitness.
There is no one set of guidelines that will work for everyone in every situation. Each person has a different physiology and will respond differently to various conditions and efforts. What we can say is that recovery is very important and should be looked at as a key part of training and of being the best athlete you can be. Take the time to learn what works for you and how to help yourself recover better.
Recovery (like training) is a process and not one that can be rushed through.