As another race season comes to an end, the questions about what to do next come flooding in. So let’s try and tackle one of the bigger questions that applies all year long after each race:
“How much time should I take off?”
It’s an excellent question and one I love to answer. The short answer is “not nearly as much time as you think.”
What it ultimately comes down to is listening to what your body is telling you. After a big effort, like a marathon, your body does have to recover from the stress. So you want to take it easy and respect that. On the other hand, it can be a good idea to kick start that healing process with some light exercise. In addition to proper sleep and fuel for recovery, let’s look at what you can do from a mental and physical standpoint after a race.
First things first: get your head right and bask in the glory! Seriously, enjoy the day after. Laugh at how much it hurts to sit on the toilet or go down stairs. Message your friends. Scour the race site for photos. Just enjoy the success and how much fun it was.
If you want to get back to pounding the pavement, take it slow. I generally recommend my athletes take a day or two of rest and then go for a walk. Or you can go for a walk the next-day depending on how you feel. This is where there is some discretion and it may vary from runner to runner. But one thing is for certain, don’t worry about parameters, intensity, or time. If you are still sore, or tired, you shouldn’t prioritize or worry about speed or time. The week after should be almost a reverse taper.
In a typical taper, you should spend 8-10 days decreasing volume and maintaining intensity. After the race, you should spend 8-10 days reversing that and slowly ramping your volume back up. Again, your body will tell you if you’re ready.
Watch out for the warning signs:
These are classic signs of overtraining but they can also be interpreted as poor recovery. This is why you should listen to your body and just be aware.
What is the take-home message here? Take it easy, and take it slow. The weeks after a race are more about recovery than fitness. Your body will appreciate a methodical approach to the 8-10 days following a big race effort. You can try taking a day or two off completely and then start with a walk for a couple of days and then some easy jogs. Or you can try going for a walk the day after to kickstart some recovery. But be aware of any pains or niggles that often persist after these race efforts. You should only stay on your feet as long as you can be comfortable, and more is certainly not better. Once you get a couple of days of easy efforts (4-5/10) with walking or running then you can try ramping mileage back up slowly. Abide by normal training rules and be flexible.
Enjoy yourself. Most of us aren’t getting paychecks from this sport. Listen to your body and don’t force the issue. Eat. Sleep. Laugh. Be proud. Go for some walks. And start thinking about where else you might like to toe the line in the future.