We hear so much about preparation for races, training plans, and race day goals that sometimes we forget that the days after a race need a plan too. Running can be a lifetime sport, but in order to make it one, we can’t forget about those crucial days after a race. Learning when to return to running after a race is crucial for every runner, no matter what distance they are racing.
Related: What to Do the Week Before a Race
Training for races and successfully completing them usually leaves runners feeling excited and motivated. Sometimes the high of finishing a race is enough to make us want to jump back in and keep going. Taking a break from running never sounds very appealing when we are in the midst of a high point.
Recovery after a race is so important for runners of all kinds. Learning how your body responds to long distances and hard efforts will help guide your recovery. But sometimes just feeling good may not actually mean that you are already ready to begin running after a race.
These 5 guidelines are a great place to start if you are unsure how much time to take off running after a race, and how to return to running when you are ready.
5 Guidelines to Return to Running After a Race
Plan extra rest days immediately following your race
The body needs extra recovery time after a hard workout or long race, so plan to have multiple rest days immediately following your race. Plan for at least one full rest day, with no workouts (other than active recovery like walking or yoga) after any race distance. Then, depending on the intensity of your race, you can begin to incorporate some cross-training days.
The biggest mistake runners make after a race is letting their excitement get the best of them and returning to running too soon. While rest days sound really good at the peak of training, forcing yourself to take them when you’re coming off the high of a race may be easier said than done.
In these situations, it’s important to remind yourself of the benefits that you will gain from these rest days. Recovery is incredibly important in maintaining health and injury free running in the future. In general, the below guidelines will ensure that you have a safe and smooth recovery.
Marathon: Take at least one full week off from running.
Half Marathon: At least two full rest days from running.
10k and 5k: Take one full rest day from running.
Foam roll, stretch or do yoga the day immediately following the race
While rest alone is very beneficial, taking some time to complete a few extra measures of recovery can make a huge difference. Simple recovery methods such as stretching, foam rolling or yoga will drastically speed up your recovery.
Your muscles may be too sore to complete any strenuous foam rolling or stretching the day of your race, so it is best to dedicate the following day for your recovery measures. Spending time stretching out your muscles helps loosen the lactic acid to prevent any further soreness from developing. Keeping your muscles fresh and limber encourages blood flow, which prevents anything from tightening up.
Wait to run until you are no longer sore and there are no painful areas
Regardless of the plan you are following, if you are still experiencing pain or soreness when you are supposed to start running again, skip it. Don’t feel guilty about missing a few workouts when you are returning to running after a race. It is much safer to take a few extra rest days than to jump back into training before your body is fully recovered and wind up with an injury.
Dedicate your first run back to a short, slow, easy run
Nothing will take you down faster than trying to do too much, too soon when returning to running after a race. Plan for a week or so of easier, short runs immediately following the race. After taking a day or two of complete rest, resume running with some slow easy runs.
As long as you have no lingering soreness or pain, easy running can actually be beneficial in speeding up your running. Similar to stretching and foam rolling, easy running acts as an active recovery day, promoting blood flow.
Be careful to pay attention to pace or heart rate during these runs to make sure you are not pushing your body too far while it is still trying to recover. Aim to run at least a minute slower per mile during these runs, and keep the distance to just a few miles for the first few runs back.
Avoid hard workouts for at least a week post-race
Even if you’re feeling great, it’s always safe to avoid planning any hard workouts the week immediately following your race. If you’re following a training plan, look ahead and move any hard workouts that may fall the week after completing a race. If recovery seems to be going quickly and you’re feeling fresh sooner than expected, add a few easy miles.
Avoid jumping back into hard effort running until your body has had at least one full week to recover. Even shorter race distances like 5ks and 10ks can leave your muscles fatigued from the hard effort. Taking a full week of recovery or easy running will ensure that you avoid placing any extra stress on your muscles before they are fully healed.
It is nearly always better to play it safe than sorry. Try to avoid scheduling any races or goal workouts close together to avoid the temptation to jump back in to training too soon. While everybody is different in terms of recovery, following these guidelines is a great place to start when you are unsure when to begin running again after a race.
Take complete rest days, add in some extra recovery measures, and start running again after a race with only easy, slow miles.
Finishing a race is a great accomplishment! Take some time afterwards to celebrate what you completed, reflect on the experience, and gain excitement for the future. Remember all of the hard work you put in during training to get to this point, and don’t ruin it now by getting injured.