Ask The Experts: When Can I Start Training Again?

Q.

Dear Experts,

I ran a race last weekend. It didn’t go so well and I’m eager to redeem myself in another race. But I’m concerned that if I get back to hard training too soon I’ll get hurt or burn out. What do you recommend?

Alison
Albany, NY

A.

Alison,

Generally speaking, how quickly you return to normal training depends on the length of the race you’ve just completed, your fitness level, and when you plan to race next. If the race you’ve just completed is the last one in your current training cycle, you should feel no rush to return to normal training.  In fact, you’ll be better served in the long run if you allow your body and mind to rejuvenate through a brief period of inactivity followed by a period of informal, just-for-kicks workouts, perhaps featuring some alternative modes of exercise. That said, here are some general guidelines to consider when planning your return to training:

  • After shorter races (up to 10K): You can do your next hard run within as few as three days, if you’re a high-mileage runner. Otherwise, wait about five days.
  • After a 10-miler or half-marathon: Fitter runners can go long or fast again after four or five days. More casual runners should wait at least a full week.
  • After a marathon: All runners wishing to maintain a high level of fitness should do little or no running for four to seven days, followed by a week of only low-intensity running. Then you can return to your normal regimen.

Cross-training is a great way to maintain fitness without slowing the recovery process in the first few days after a longer race.  Walking, swimming, cycling, and inline skating are all good choices, as long as you keep the intensity low.

Below are three examples of training schedules for the first 10 days after a race. The first example is a schedule that is appropriate for a runner who has just completed a short (5K or 10K) race and wishes to return to training as quickly as possible to prepare for the next race. The second example is appropriate for a runner who has just completed a marathon and wishes to return to normal training quickly. The third example is appropriate for a runner who has completed a peak race that will be followed by an “off-season” recovery period. This example includes bicycling and yoga as off-season cross-training activities, but feel free to substitute whatever activities interest you the most.

Example 1—Quick recovery after a 5K or 10K

Day 1

Rest

Day 2

Easy Run

3 miles

Day 3

Easy Run

5 miles

Day 4

Fartlek Run

6 miles easy w/

6 x 30 seconds

@ 5K pace

Day 5

Rest

Day 6

Easy Run

5 miles

Day 7

Long Run

10 miles easy

Day 8

Easy Run + Sprints

4 miles easy

8 x 10 seconds uphill

@ full speed

Day 9

Easy Run

5 miles

Day 10

Tempo Run

1-mile warmup

4 miles @ half-marathon pace

1-mile cooldown

Example 2—Quick recovery after a marathon

Day 1

Rest

Day 2

Walk

2 miles

Day 3

Pool Run

30 minutes

Day 4

Elliptical trainer

40 minutes

Day 5

Easy Run

4 miles

Day 6

Rest

Day 7

Easy Run

5 miles

Day 8

Elliptical Trainer

40 minutes

Day 9

Easy Run

5 miles

Day 10

Fartlek Run

6 miles easy w/

6 x 30 seconds

@ 5K pace

Example 3—Off-season recovery after a marathon

Day 1

Rest

Day 2

Rest

Day 3

Walk

2 miles

Day 4

Walk

2 miles

Day 5

Bicycle

40 minutes

Day 6

Rest

Day 7

Bicycle

40 minutes

Day 8

Yoga

30 minutes

Day 9

Bicycle

1 hour

Day 10

Yoga

30 minutes

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