What is the Best Way to Recover After a Race?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I recover after short and long races – 5K to marathon?  ~Jeff

A: Great question, Jeff! The short, sweet, tweet-sized answer is – invest one day for every mile in the race. Although this is very general, it can work in keeping things simple. So, the shorter the race, the shorter the recovery necessary and vice versa.  This is why you can race multiple 5Ks in a season with less risk than racing multiple half or full marathons in a season.

The longer answer is it truly depends on a host of variables including: your running experience, your training season, your health, stress, nutrition, race intensity, the elements, age and more! I know that’s a mouthful and quite a lot to think about, but ultimately it comes down to creating your personal recovery program and understanding that every post-race recovery is unique. That way, you tune into what works for you, learn to optimize your down time and ebb and flow with all types of recoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, post-race recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch watching your favorite reality TV show. It simply means getting off the structure of a training program for awhile to let things heal and rejuvenate – much like the winter season or a good night’s sleep. Our body functions in cycles and when you begin to train and race in cycles, you make the most of every season. The fun part is it allows time to explore activities you may have ignored due to training. There are a myriad of options for active recovery and here are just a few ways you could go for each race distance.

5K – 10K:  

In-Season, Post-Race Recovery:

Day 1 – Rest, massage or very light, low-impact activity for 20-30 minutes (cycling, elliptical)

Day 2 – Cross-training with lower-impact activities for 30-45 minutes at an easy effort level, plus flexibility exercises (foam rolling, stretching)

Day 3 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 4 – Cross-training for 30-45 minutes at an easy to moderate effort level

Day 5 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Continue on with your 5K training regimen, adding higher intensity and longer duration runs back into your regimen if all feels well. If you have any aches or pains, invest a few more days of easy effort runs and cross-training to assure recovery.

Post-Season Recovery:

Weeks 1-2:

Include easy to moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter and flexibility exercises, keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour. Reward yourself with a massage!

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus a strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Easy effort run – 60 minutes on a new trail, route or path

Sunday – Rest

Weeks 3-4:

Include moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter, a harder effort short run and flexibility exercises, still keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour.

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Alternate one week with a longer, slower run (45-60 minutes) with a shorter, harder effort run (30-40 minutes – Fartlek, which is a form of road running in which the runner varies the pace significantly during the run)

Sunday – Rest

Half Marathon Marathon:

Longer races require long training seasons and more effort and stress on race day. Therefore, at least 3-4 weeks of low-key, unstructured activity is a great way to fully recovery mentally, physically and emotionally. Here is an example of what that might look like for a runner that normally trains four times per week, plus cross-training.

Week 1 – Keep the effort easy and activity short:

Monday – Rest, massage and very light flexibility exercises

Tuesday – Cross-training for 20-30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Cross-training for 30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Friday – Rest day or light walk for 30 minutes

Saturday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest or light walk for 30-45 minutes

 Week 2 – Keep the effort easy, and build the activity time slightly:

Monday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Tuesday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Thursday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 3:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60-70 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 4:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Moderate effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Thursday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Friday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes or cross-training

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 70-80 minutes (or hold at 60 minutes if that’s more comfortable), plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest