Run Recovery

How to Recover After a Race
(and Why You Should)

Just finished a big race, huh? Well, congrats! All that training paid off and you’re on to the next starting line, right? Whoa, Nellie! Just as important as all that hard work you put in before the race is taking the time to recover after it.

Think about it: you just pushed yourself really hard, both physically and mentally. Allowing your body (and mind) to recoup after a big race is what helps you avoid injuries, burnout, fatigue, and (gulp) lack-luster performances. Want to be at your best before your next race? It’s all about recovery, my friends.

Why a Post-Race Recovery Plan Should be a Priority

It’s funny, runners make plans to run races, follow plans to train for those races, but plans for recovering from those races often get lost in the shuffle (or are not even thought of at all). When the race is over, many runners are already looking to the next race and looking right past the most important part of getting there — giving their bodies some well-deserved R&R. Now we know what you’re thinking: Is it really that big of a deal? Uh, yes! Here’s why:

Recovery Helps You Heal

Muscles and tendons pushed to their limits get tiny, microscopic tears that need time to repair themselves — it’s actually how they build strength and power. Asking muscles to do too much too soon is actually asking for a whole heap of trouble! A little tired can become totally fatigued, tightness can turn into large tears, a small amount of damage can end up a chronic injury. And that next race you wanted to do? Well, maybe next year.

Racing doesn’t just break down muscles, either. Your body also uses up energy and loses fluids, glycogen, and electrolytes. After a race, it needs to restore what it's lost and take time to heal. If you don’t allow that to happen, your body doesn’t have the chance to repair, replenish, and rebuild, and instead it continues to break down. Not good.

Recovery Helps You Stay Healthy

Skipping recovery or cutting it short can also do a number on your immune system, making you susceptible to getting run down and leaving the door open for illnesses to come on in and stay a while. Obviously, this will set you back even longer — there’s nothing like a sick bug to mess with your training schedule.

Finally, racing can be a big brain drain, too. Running, after all, entails not just physical effort, but mental effort as well. Your brain can get just as tired as your muscles and not letting it take a breather can definitely affect your future performances.

Put simply, taking time off to recover will ultimately help you avoid having to take more time off later, and will also allow you to come back fresher and stronger, both physically and mentally.

What Does Recovering After a Race Look Like?

Now that we’ve covered why recovery’s so important, let’s talk about how to do it properly. The road to recovery is different for everyone, but there are similarities across the board. For instance: getting plenty of sleep, rehydrating with water and drinks that replace electrolytes, and refueling by eating fruits and veggies, healthy carbs, and proteins like meat and beans.

Besides all that, it’s important to note that recovery doesn’t mean plopping on the couch and doing nothing for days. You can (and should) actively recover to help the process along. This includes regularly stretching and continuing to move, albeit at a slower pace and in ways other than running. Low impact activities — like walking, swimming, biking, or yoga — are a great way to help maintain your fitness while giving your body the time it needs to heal and recoup.

Recovery plans might also include:

  • Massage - getting a massage, or using massage tools (more on that below), helps flush your muscles of stiffness and soreness, and aids in muscle repair.
  • Taking a soak - warm baths are relaxing and can be made even more soothing by adding epsom salt or botanicals to the water.
  • Elevating legs - sure, you shouldn’t hang out on the couch for huge periods of time, but kicking back a bit with some pillows to prop up your legs reduces inflammation and improves blood flow to help muscles heal.  
  • Wearing compression socks - slip a pair of these on (or opt for sleeves) and you’ll see why runners everywhere swear by ‘em! The compression increases blood flow to targeted muscles, accelerating the healing process and reducing stiffness, soreness, and inflammation.

Of course, the most important thing to remember while recovering is to listen to your body. There might be some trial and error involved and you may have to make some modifications to your plan along the way, but patience is key. Your body will let you know when it's ready to get back at it. Which leads us to the burning question every runner wants to know.

How Quickly Can You Return to Racing?

If you’re like most runners, even with the knowledge of why and how you should recover, it won’t take long before you start wondering when it’s safe to toe another starting line. We get it!

One rule of thumb is to rest a day for every mile of the race you just ran. In general, you should give yourself at least 1- 3 weeks, but it also depends on a few different factors. These include: the distance you raced, your fitness level, and how diligently you’ve been following your recovery plan (hint, hint).  

The main thing to keep in mind when you do get back to training, is to start slowly, and gradually build. One way of doing this is with a reverse taper, meaning the few weeks of tapering you did leading up to your race done in reverse after it.

Tools to Help You Recover (and Return to Racing) Faster

Besides the techniques we mentioned earlier that help with recovery, there’s also technology and tools you can take advantage of that help move the recovery process along, such as:

  • Massage Tools - DIY massage tools like those from Therabody and Hyperice, are great for on-the-go relief of deep down tired and sore muscles.
  • Rollers - Rolling helps to ease sore muscles and reduce inflammation, as well as improve your range of motion. One example we love is the R8 Roller which can get deep into muscle tissue without having to apply any pressure yourself.  
  • Recovery Balls - Using balls, you can target trigger points to massage aching muscles and encourage blood flow, which helps speed up the healing process. These are especially great to massage feet and loosen the plantar fascia (the band of tissues along your arch that connects your heel to your toes).  
  • Recovery slides and sandals - After an intense race, man does it ever feel good to kick off your shoes. And slipping ‘em into a pair of recovery slides feels even better! Designed with cloud-like, heavenly cushion, these not only feel incredible on sore feet, but also reduce impact absorbed when you step, helping your joints and muscles recover too. The only thing left to say is, Ahhhhh.  

Recover Right. Run Better.

To recap, taking the time to recover after a race is as essential as all the miles and work you put in before it. It’ll make you stronger, more focused, help you stay injury-free, plus allow you to get back to performing your best faster…and heck, maybe even better.

At Gazelle Sports, our goal is to help you keep moving. Connect with us and we’ll be happy to support you and your recovery with tools, tips, and anything else you may need. Stop by or call us today.