Returning To Training After A Big Race

Follow these guidelines to quickly get yourself back up to speed.

Within the first 24 hours after racing, your highest priorities in terms of recovery are initiating muscle repair, restocking muscle glycogen stores, and rehydrating. Call it phase one of post-race recovery. But what happens after the first 24 hours? Why, phase two of post-race recovery, of course, where the emphasis is on the return to training.

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.

RELATED: The Importance Of Recovery After A Marathon

Here 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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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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