Be Kind to Your Body: Rest After a Race

Most of us don’t think about rest after a race while we’re getting ready for one; we’re focused on preparation. And when it comes to preparation, runners have no shortage of resources available from which to choose.

There are a variety of books that cover the gamut of training philosophies, apps to download, one-size-fits-all plans freely available online, and coaches you can hire to create a plan specifically for you.

But what about a plan for after the race is over? How much information is available to runners on what to do after the race is done and dusted?

Not much.

Rest is Required

If you race hard, you are going to need to rest after a race to allow your body to recover and minimize your risk of injury. Taking time off from running can be difficult for many runners, but it is a must after a race.

How much time you need to rest after a race depends on many factors. One rule of thumb is that you should take one day off for each mile of the race. So, according to this theory, after a half marathon, you should take 13 days off and after a full marathon, you should take close to a full month off.

If you ask me, that’s a bit excessive. In actuality, the appropriate amount of time off depends on how you’re feeling after the race. My recommendation for my clients is to wait until their legs feel completely normal, and then wait another two to three days before going for an easy run.

As you become more experienced, you’ll get a better feel for your body and you’ll be able to determine just how much time you need to rest after a race.

Also, remember that just because you felt good a week after a race in the past doesn’t mean you’ll only need a week off after your next race. Each race is its own animal, and you can’t assume you’ll need the same amount of recovery time every time.

When in doubt, err on the side of giving yourself an extra day or two of rest rather than returning to running a day or two too early. I promise, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Time Off is Not the Same as Doing Nothing

For whatever reason, when runners are told to rest after a race, many tend to think that means doing as little physical activity as possible. Unless you are dealing with a serious injury after your race, it’s ok to be active right after your race. In fact, I’d go so far as to say some activity is encouraged!

Just don’t run!

Go swimming, jump on the bike, do some yoga—all are great activities to help alleviate muscle soreness and speed up recovery.

Whatever activities you choose, just keep the effort easy. The idea is to help loosen up the muscles and promote blood flow to your legs, not beat them up more than they already are.

In addition to getting some rest after a race, another good suggestion for speeding up the recovery process is to drink plenty of water and get plenty of sleep. Staying hydrated will help your body flush out the waste products that build up in your muscles after a hard race. And the extra sleep is important for helping our bodies do the repair work at the cellular level that will undo the damage caused by the race.

Ease Back In

Once you are feeling back to normal after your race, don’t just jump back into running full force.

Give yourself a week or two of predominately easy running to make sure there are no lingering aches and pains that need to be addressed.

And once you’re confident that all is well, you can get back to your regular training with an eye toward your next race.

By Denny Krahe

Denny Krahe is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Running Coach specializing in helping runners prevent common running injuries and being able to run pain free. He is also the host of the "Diz Runs With..." podcast.