Recovery, both physically and mentally, can be difficult, especially long race recovery. After a good race, it might be hard to stop training because you want to push yourself to improve while you’re on an upswing. If a race wasn’t so good, odds are you want to figure out what went wrong and work on not letting it happen again. Unfortunately, the best possible thing you can do, regardless of a race’s outcome, is take the time necessary to recover from your efforts properly.
Training for a lengthy race, whether it’s a marathon, 50K or 100K takes a long time. Programs can range from 16 to 30 weeks, and that puts of a lot of stress on your body. Even with taper weeks just before your max effort race, your body rarely has an opportunity to fully recover from what you’re putting it through. It’s important to realize that proper long race recovery should take at least two to three weeks and rushing back into training greatly increases the risk of injury.
There are lots of ways to kick off recovery after completing a long race, and it begins the minute you cross the Finish Line. Keeping moving by walking through the finishing chute and to the post race party, your hotel or car and immediately start hydrating, with water or a sports drink. When you’re ready to eat, do so with easily digested carbs such as granola and bananas, just try get it within 30 minutes of your finish. Next up is getting off your feet. Change into dry, warm clothes, then put them up and rest an hour or two, foam roll, stretch and use an ice bath while enjoying your accomplishment. Relaxing with your feet up will also give you time to treat any injuries, from muscle strains to blisters.
After resting for a few hours, and letting your muscles start their long race recovery, freshen up with a warmer- than-an-ice-bath shower, or another bath, then go get that healthy, carb rich meal your body’s ready for. Your efforts on the course have depleted your glycogen stores, and refilling them is one of the best ways to help your muscles, cells and immune system repair themselves from the stress of a long, hard race. If you want to celebrate, do so responsibly. Alcohol can hinder the body’s ability to repair itself, and you’re likely to already be running, or walking, on fumes. When you’ve finished celebrating, hit the hay. You’re probably tired, anyway, and your body needs the rest. It might be hard to fall asleep with soreness and an excited mind, but lots of fluids and a bed time snack can help.
The final, and toughest, part of long race recovery is rest. You’ve done your best to help your body heal just after the race, but it definitely needs more time for a complete recovery. Keep moving around the day after your event, but stay away from running. Take two to three days off from any serious exercise and get a sports massage. By four days after your race, you can try a little light jogging for two or three miles, but remember to take it slow. Most of the soreness should be gone by the end of the week, so throw in some light cross training or a longer, but still easy, run. Use the next week or two to continue taking it easy, fueling properly, staying hydrated, massaging and giving your muscles the best chance they have to heal quickly.
Never be afraid to take an extra day off, though you always want to keep from being stationary for long periods of time, be especially aware during long race recovery. Worries about losing fitness are unfounded, and many elites are comfortable taking up to four weeks post-race to recover.
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