Your big race is over, so now what? Recovery begins the second you cross the finish line. If you ran the half or the full marathon, this was your longest and hardest workout you’ve done so far. Whether you got that personal best time you were training for, or you cramped up with 5 km left in the race and things didn’t go to plan, it’s time to set some post-race plans in motion.
By Michelle Clarke
Once you have hit the finishing shoot, the best thing to do is to keep walking. The body is going to react by cramping and seizing, making even simple movements difficult. Trying to keep the body warm is ideal. Most people only think about what they need for the race, and put little thought into post-race. Every race has a drop bag service available and everyone should utilize it. Make sure you have a change of warm dry clothes, socks and shoes. Pack some money and your phone so you can find your significant others in the maze of spectators. Decide in advance on a place to meet your cheering squad. Since you will be low on fuel and may not be in a state of mind to be making decisions. Pack a small protein bar to tie you over until you get to your food destination.
Kick Back and Relax
The days following your big race are the most important part of recovery. Take a few passive recovery days. Passive recovery simply means, don’t become a couch potato. There is no need to go for a run, but it’s best for recovery to get in a few walks and get some blood flow to your sore, stiff muscles. If you suffered an injury during your race, then it’s wise to see a specialist and follow a proper rehabilitation plan. During these 2-4 days of low activity, it’s a great time to plan ahead for another season. Take some time to go over your running logs, look at your race day splits, and think back to what felt good and what didn’t feel great. Be honest with yourself about your training and where you feel you could improve for the next time.
There is an important thing to be aware of, especially for the first timers. Many athletes who spend a great deal of time training for a big goal will experience a small amount of post-race depression. This is normal and should subside after a few days. Going from a structured training plan and completing a big race to then not being able to run for a few days can be confusing for the body. Since our bodies love routine we will naturally grave the structure of the previous week training regiment, breaking this cycle can lead to feelings of withdrawal and empathy. Despite the lack of running, try to stick to an abridge routine of waking up and going for a walk in place of your habitual run. This can help curb the post-race blues.
Return to Action
After you’ve had a bit of a rest, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. If you have a coach, set up some race goals for the next season. The most important thing at this point to commit and get yourself signed up for another event. Once you have another goal on the calendar, you can begin an active recovery phase that will move you into the next race training season.
Different than passive recovery, active recovery means you can begin back to your run routine but without the workouts. Your runs will be shorter, slower and it’s a time for you to just enjoy the act of running. The pressure is off and it’s just you and your sneakers spending some time alone. This phase allows your body to fully heal from your race, while maintaining the fitness you worked so hard for. Typically this phase can last up to 2-4 weeks, depending on when and where you’ve decided to set your next goal race. Take the opporutnity time during these weeks to also add some strength and conditioning work at your gym. Spending 2-3 days a week on core work will greatly increase your chances for an even more successful and injury free season.
You Can’t Control Everything
No matter how fit you are or how much work you put in; there is so much you can’t control on race day. One bad race does not mean you have to throw in the towel. Instead, sign up for another race, giving yourself 4-6 weeks to tune up for it. Stay focused and motivated. The goal is to recover, build and try again. Take a full week of rest, do one week of active recovery then two weeks of training build. You will need to build in another taper week before race day. Repeat race day one more time.
Enjoy the Moment
No matter what, celebrate your accomplishment. When you’re surrounded by thousands of runners at the start line, it seems everyone and their uncle run marathons. This is not at all true. Running a marathon or a half marathon is a special achievement and for every person that takes on the challenge, there are many who don’t. The best part about running is there’s always another race; another goal to chase or another great city to run in; after all, it’s all about the journey!