It’s the morning-after effect: reaching the end of a race you’ve trained hard for can result in mixed emotions. Maybe it didn’t go to plan and you’re not sure why, or maybe you flew round the course and loved it, but are now feeling flat. “There are both physiological and psychological reasons for feeling in a funk after a race,” says running and biomechanics coach Sarah Russell (sarah-russell.co.uk), who’s also a UK Athletics area coach and mentor. “Firstly, you’ll be physically fatigued, glycogen depleted and dehydrated, so your body simply needs time to recover. Mentally, you’ll be tired from the stress of organising your training and from the race itself, especially if it was a big event and you were raising money for charity.” So read on to discover expert ways to perk yourself up post-race…
Recharge your batteries
“Eating and drinking to recover after a race is just as important as fuelling up beforehand,” says Kate Percy (gofasterfood.com), author of Go Faster Food. “This will ‘reboot’ your muscles and help get your running mojo back more quickly.” Racing depletes your energy stores and it’s during the 30-minute ‘magic window’ after exercise that your body is at its most efficient at replenishing spent energy supplies. “A combo of carbs and protein will do the trick,” says Percy, “as well as water and electrolytes to replace fluid loss.”
Do a post-race post-mortem
“Even ‘bad’ races teach you something, so look for both the positives and the lessons and apply them next time,” says Russell. “Ask yourself whether your disappointing performance was due to the weather, the terrain, not getting enough sleep beforehand, failing to fuel up properly or training that didn’t go to plan.” UK Athletics coach Jodie Goldsworthy (personalrunningcoach.co.uk) adds that lining up in the wrong start pen can also be a factor: “If you put yourself with a group that’s too slow they may have held you back, but if you joined one that was too fast you may have gone off too quickly.” And if the race went well? “Make some notes of what contributed to your success, both in the race and in your training, so you can refer back to them in the future,” says Russell.
Give yourself a break
“This will allow you to recover mentally and physically afterwards,” says Goldsworthy. “The length of time you need to rest depends on the distance you’ve raced: a two-week break after a marathon is a good idea, but it’s not necessary after a 10K.” Russell agrees that breaks are vital for recovery: “Training and racing damages your body and you need time to repair and come back stronger – it’s when we rest that we get fitter,” she says. “Get extra sleep, catch up on some TV and allow yourself to relax. If, after a few weeks off, you’re not feeling raring to go, you’re not fully recovered and so should opt for more rest.” Then, when you start training again, apply what’s called a “reverse taper”, suggests Russell: build back up slowly over a few weeks. Want the ultimate post-race break? Book a holiday! “Lying by the pool for a week immediately after a race can be the perfect way to recover without feeling guilty about not training,” says Russell.
No matter how your race went, you showed up: that’s all that matters and deserves to be celebrated. “Spend time with friends or family you haven’t had time to see during your training,” says running coach Beatrice Schaer (facebook.com/BeCoolRunning). “Treat yourself to a spa day or take part in some new activities that your usual training would’ve meant you didn’t have time to do, such as indoor rock climbing, watersports or hiking.” A piece of gorgeous new kit, or booking a coaching day can also make for fabulous ‘pat on the backs’.
Get a massage
It’s a wonderful post-race reward but, cautions Goldsworthy, “make sure you’ve used the massage therapist before – or that they’ve been recommended by a reliable source – as sore muscles are very vulnerable.”
Date to be different
Trying a different distance, surface or style of running can be a great way to rev up your running again. “If you ran a marathon, try racing some shorter distances,” says Schaer. “You’ll see that your long-distance training will have improved your speed. Or why not attend track sessions with a club? Alternatively, hit the trails – it’s good for your joints, and exploring new routes is mentally refreshing.”
Choose another goal
“Having a new goal will motivate you to keep up your running, even if you don’t get back into a training programme straight away,” says Schaer. Russell agrees, but cautions: “After the race is over, give yourself come time to regroup and think carefully about what you want to do next. Race entries are at their highest on a Sunday evening when runners – fresh from either a disappointment or a triumph – look for their next challenge. So don’t do what everyone else does and enter your next race immediately after you cross the finish line.”
Avoid post-race blues in the future
Going in to a race with a clear vision of your goal is vital to feeling good about a race afterwards. “Ask yourself whether you want to run as fast as you can, just get round and enjoy it or use it as a training run,” says Russell. “Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by aiming too high timewise: make sure your goal is realistic and based on evidence from your training.” And finally, remember that PBs don’t come round that often – and are frequently out of your control, so if that’s all you race for, then you’ll soon find you get despondent. “Don’t just use your finish time as a measure of whether or not you did well,” says Russell. “There are many other ways to rate a race: did it give you a chance to travel, to run with a friend, to try a new distance or to experience breathtaking scenery?”