You did it! Building an off-season program.
If you just ran the Naperville Half Marathon or 5K, or are soon running a different fall half marathon or other goal race, you have trained hard and tapered carefully for the race. To stay healthy and injury-free, it is equally important for you to follow a good plan for recovery on race day and in the days and weeks following your race.
Race-day and post-race activities:
- Get your medal(s). The Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon and 5K have fantastic finisher medals, with additional medals for multi-race distance challenges and consecutive year finishes. Make sure you get all the medals for which you are eligible.
- Get your Finisher photo taken. You will want the finished photo as a keepsake, so take the time to wait in line and get this photo taken, even if you feel like you are just too tired.
- Keep moving immediately after the race. Keep walking slowly and/or keep standing and moving, even in line for the race photo. You don’t want to sit and run the risk of cramping or tightening to the point where you can’t stand or walk.
- Immediately after the race (within 30-60 minutes), replenish with fluids and a small protein and carbohydrate snack once you feel that your stomach can handle it. This will give your body the tools it needs to start repairing the tissue you damaged during the race.
- Continue with frequent, small carb and protein mini-meals and with ample hydration throughout the remainder of race day.
- You may want to consider running cold water over your legs and hips or standing in a cool swimming pool later in the day. This will help limit the extensive amount of inflammation your body produces after a difficult race. [Note that you only want to do this after your race, not after every long run. Recent studies have shown that cool water treatment can interfere with the rebuilding (inflammation and recovery) that your body undergoes in response to long run training. So, after long runs, let your body recover naturally from the run to make you stronger for the next, more difficult long run.]
- Consider some very light foam rolling if you are experiencing significant tightness in certain areas, but don’t be too aggressive. Your muscles and other tissues are susceptible to injury right after the race.
- Wearing compression clothing later in the day may help reduce inflammation and help with recovery. Compression socks (knee-high or higher) or tights are especially useful if you have to fly home from a destination race on race day or the day after.
- Do some very light stretching later in the day – be gentle.
- Consider some very light activity later in the day such as walking the dog or a casual stroll in your neighborhood. This will help keep your muscles loose.
- Celebrate your success. Enjoy your healthy post-race meal and savor your accomplishment with friends and family.
- Try not to do anything stressful during the remainder of race day. If you are on a destination race trip, save the sightseeing for the next few days and don’t be a tourist on race day.
- Get a good night’s sleep. You probably slept poorly the night before the race, so try to get a full night’s sleep the night after the race.
1-3 days post-race:
- Try 10-15 minutes of walking or jogging or another light exercise the day after the race if you aren’t feeling injured. If you feel any pain or unusual discomfort, stop right away.
- You may want to schedule a very light massage two to three days after the race. Make sure your massage therapist knows you are two to three days after a strenuous race and that the therapist is experienced in working with post-race clients.
- Continue to wear compression clothing if it makes you feel better and wear compression socks (knee-high or higher) or tights if you are flying during this time frame.
- Post your photos and commentary on social media. Continue to celebrate and share your accomplishments with your friends and family – you earned it.
- Avoid NSAIDs or other pain medication if possible – it may mask any injuries you might have and may interfere with your body’s natural healing process.
3-7 days post-race:
- Continue with light activity – walking and/or short bouts of easy jogging are perfect.
- Follow the ‘one mile per day’ rule: on any given day, don’t run more miles than days after the race. For example, 1 week after the race, do not exceed seven miles running on that day.
- Expect more deep fatigue than earlier in the week. The adrenaline rush of finishing the race may be wearing off now, so don’t be surprised if your soreness and/or fatigue increases during this period.
- Expect Post-Race Syndrome.
The mental game – Prepare for Post-Race Syndrome
You may be surprised at how you feel mentally after your half marathon or 5K, especially if it was your first race at that distance and/or you achieved a personal record. Instead of feeling excited about your accomplishment, you may feel depressed or anxious, or you may feel like you don’t have any motivation. This is common and stems from your depleted physical state in combination with the fact that you have lost one of the major goals and sources of structure in your life (your race training plan). Here are some tips on how to break out of Post-Race Syndrome:
- Analyze your race result and process – this will help you determine what you need to do differently (and/or the same) in your next race.
- Set another goal (not necessarily a race or running goal). You need to restore the structure in your life that you have lost now that your race training is over. You may not want to do another half marathon or other race as your next major goal, but set some kind of new goal. Perhaps a shorter race or an accomplishment in another sport or hobby.
- View rest as part of your training plan. Remind yourself that during this month of recovery, you are following a plan – a recovery plan. This plan is every bit as important as your ramp-up of your long runs. It is critical to follow the recovery plan to avoid injury and allow your body to recover from the stresses of the race.
- Ease into some cross-training. Be gentle, but starting a new and different physical activity will help break up boredom and spark your interest in something new. Physically, this will also help prevent overuse injuries that might arise from more running.
- Continue to eat a healthy diet and hydrate to aid your physical recovery as well as your mental recovery. Strenuous racing can deplete your immune system and other body processes and a healthy diet is crucial to the repair and recovery of these systems. In addition, feeling better physically will aid with your mental recovery.
- Appreciate your accomplishment. This is key – take some time to think about what you have accomplished and how special it is. You worked hard to complete your goal race and you deserve to feel great about it.
1-3 weeks post-race:
- Ease back into your training – this will be similar to your taper, except in reverse:
- Stick with easy work the first week – 25-35% or normal mileage (or less if you really pushed it during the race).
- Continue to follow the ‘one mile per day’ rule discussed above.
- 35-60% of normal mileage in week 2
- 60-80% of normal mileage in week 3
- It will take 2-3 weeks for you to achieve a full recovery.
- Eat a healthy die. As discussed above, your body needs high-quality fuel for the repair of tissue. This continues to be the case for a month after a strenuous race.
- Hydrate. Your body continues to need adequate hydration to flush inflammation from the body and for the repair and rebuilding of tissue.
4 weeks post-race and beyond:
Now is the time to start thinking about your winter training plan. If you followed the recovery plan above, you should be back to your base running mileage – 2-4 days per week and 12-20 miles per week. If you want to get a jump start on spring racing, it is best to maintain this base mileage throughout the winter. Some things to keep in mind:
- Limit speed work during the winter. Give your body a break from some of the stresses of race training.
- Continue with strength training. This will help you get stronger and avoid injury in preparation for your spring racing season.
- Continue with hill training. This will build strength as well.
- Prepare for the elements with a plan to layer for outdoor running or by finding a good indoor track or treadmill for your winter training.
- Consider maintaining a long run every 2 weeks through the winter. This will keep your endurance high so that after an early spring ramp up, you can run a spring half marathon (or late spring marathon.)
By following these tips, you will get through winter ready to ramp up for spring racing.
Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness