Most runners are well aware that stretching, staying hydrated and getting adequate rest are very important aspects, especially after longer races. However, must runners get stuck and don’t know when to start or how much they should be running after finishing a race.
How Am I Feeling?
This is the first question you should ask yourself after your race. Are you feeling surprisingly fresh or completely drained? Answers may differ according to each runner because a runner who specializes in marathons will probably feel great after running a 5K, however, an athlete attempting this distance for the first time will understandably feel tired.
If you’re feeling fresh – you’re ready to train as usual.
If you’re feeling just ok – you’re ready to train but keep distance and efforts low.
If you’re feeling drained or are in pain – rest on the day after the race and go on walk two days after race day.
It’s impossible for me to try and guess what distance you ran and how that affected your body, so, my best advice is: be sensible.
If you ran your first 5K make sure you allow your body to rest, don’t try to complete a 10K on the next weekend or anything crazy like that! If you’ve finished a marathon for the first time you should definitely allow time for recovery – soreness can last for over a week for new runners (especially runners who didn’t follow a proper training plan!).
Not being sensible, wanting to run too far too quickly is what gets you in trouble and opens the doors to a huge plethora of possible injuries. Be patient and learn from this experience so that you may recover better and faster in future events.
In my track & field team, the coach had all athletes running at a low effort on the day after a cross country race. He called this active recovery. After many years of following this routine I have developed the belief (through personal experience) that it is better to remain active on the day after – even if it is at a very low effort. If I feel too beaten up to run then I might do some light strength exercise with a resistance band followed by light stretching and deep breathing.
Further Recovery Techniques
Two recent studies were conducted (in 2018) regarding recovery after endurance events. One study, published by PLoS One, concluded that “In recreational runners, a half-marathon results in fatigue symptoms lasting at least 24h. To restore subjective fatigue measures, the authors recommend cold water emmersion and massage (…)”.
This conclusion was backed by another study who also found that “Perceived fatigue can be effectively managed using compression techniques, such as compression garments, massage, or water immersion.”
Click the links above to read the full studies.
The bottom line is – it all depends on how you feel. The hardest part is being honest with yourself (really honest). Make sure you’re not telling yourself that you need to rest for two weeks just because you’re being lazy! After finishing the race, take a shower, eat a nutritious meal, rest and plan how you will start running again.
But also remember to to lay back and indulge, after all, you finished a race – enjoy it!
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