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Why do I need a post-race recovery period?

Our previous post talked about the recovery week, which is something that is part of a regular training cycle and helps to facilitate adaptation.  A post-race recovery period is quite a different concept.  This period comes straight after a big goal race, and its key aim is to allow your body to recover and reset after putting out a huge physical effort.

It’s not a period where you’re looking to gain or even maintain fitness; in fact, you’ll probably lose a little bit of fitness. Rather, you’re allowing your body (and mind) to recover and reset from all the work you’ve put in during your race and the months leading up to it. By doing this properly, you’re enabling your body to get back into a training cycle as soon as possible and minimizing the risk of carrying some residual fatigue for weeks after your race.

This is an area of training where, as a coach, I often need to tell an athlete what they don’t want to hear.  After a good race, an athlete is often pumped-up and eager to get back into training for the next goal. After a bad race, an athlete is usually frustrated and often determined to put in even more work to make up for it.  And yet, as a coach, my job is to help them resist these temptations to make sure that they take this recovery period seriously.

So, how does one actually implement this sort of recovery period?

Well, it’s one of those areas where we step a bit away from too many ‘rules’ and need to really listen to our bodies. Everyone recovers at different rates, and the type of race and terrain will also have a huge impact on this recovery. As a rough guideline, I’d recommend only a few days for shorter races, at least a week 20-30km races, and even more after a marathon or ultra.

Start off the recovery period with a few days of complete rest or very light exercise (such as walking). After this, ease back into things with a few short easy runs to get back into the rhythm and consistency of training. After a few runs, you’ll probably feel like you’re ready to put out a harder workout but this feeling usually comes before your body is actually ready – so be sure to wait a few more days.

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that your body is ready to be pushed again, but feeling good on an easy run is very different to being able to put out a successful workout.  It’s better to be patient, as if your body isn’t able to absorb and adapt to the work you’ve put in, there’s little to be gained from doing it anyway and you’re simply prolonging the recovery process.

You might try to argue that you don’t need a proper recovery period as you convince yourself that it’s simply being ‘lazy’ or skipping out on training. The reality however, is quite the opposite. It takes a lot of discipline and patience to recover properly, and the best example of this is often seen at the elite level. Most pro marathon runners take at least a week or two off after their major races, and these are athletes that are doing everything that they can to maximize their performance.

If these highly-trained, super-fit athletes feel that their body needs a bit of time off after a race… well then, it’s most likely that you do too!

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