Runners spend so much time preparing for a race — and even though crossing the finish line is a milestone, your work isn’t over. In fact, a post-race routine is critical for proper recovery and can influence how quickly you can get back out and train for your next race. So what should your post-race routine look like and how should you practice it? First and foremost, you want to be consistent.
“You should always do the same post-race routine,” confirms George Berg, running coach at Running Wild and holder of multiple USATF National Track & Field Masters titles. “When push comes to shove with your body, the more you understand it, the better you can train for the next race for greater desired results or a personal record.”
No matter what you include in your post-race routine, there are three things you should absolutely do to set yourself up for future success:
REPLENISH ENERGY STORES
Even if you were taking in calories and fluids during your race, it wouldn’t have been enough to counteract what you were losing over the course of the race. Because of this, it is imperative you replenish what was lost — even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty.
“Within the first 30 minutes, try to eat and drink something; get some protein and carbs back in the system even if you don’t ‘feel’ like eating or drinking anything,” urges Matt Thull, former USA National Half-Marathon team member and founder of Thunderdome Running. “That recovery eating step of getting 100–300 calories is even more important than stretching or a cooldown jog after your race.”
This step should be continued throughout the day, and Berg advises you to keep hydrating up until bedtime and even add in a sports drink or two for some additional sodium and electrolytes.
After training for months and finally crossing both the start and finish lines, you probably want to sit down. However, before you do, make sure you take the time to properly cool down your muscles; your body will thank you tomorrow.
“When you stop and sit down, blood pools in the lower extremities and legs and is not circulating like it did during activity,” notes Thull. “Then you wake up the next day feeling like your legs weigh 1,000 pounds. Also, with the abrupt stop after the race without the blood circulating back to the heart as fast as it did during the race effort — that is when lightheadedness happens or you feel faint.”
Berg suggests you grab a running buddy and go for a cooldown run. If you are waiting for your friend to finish their race, grab a foam roller and roll out your legs and feet while you hydrate. That way you can keep tabs on their status, while still prioritizing your own recovery.
CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORIES
Whether you reached a new personal best or came up short of reaching a goal, post-race is the time to celebrate your hard work and prepare your body to start working again in a week or two. Don’t let a less than stellar day distract you from your post-race routine and taking in the action at the finish line. Taking a second to celebrate even one small victory can help you boost your mood until you can sit down in the coming weeks and really take stock of what you executed perfectly and what you can improve upon later.
“Things are very hurried most training days, where running is jammed in wherever there is time; after a big race [in] that one hour after crossing the finish line, you finally get that time to be in the moment and enjoy the result of all those training runs and hard work,” shares Thull. “I have raced over 500 times from the 5K to the marathon and the cooldown time and post-race reflection time is my most favorite time of the entire training cycle. Many runners forget about this window of free time to actually give themselves some credit and props for a big-time race effort.”
It is important to not let an unmet goal change any plans you have set for the future during that short amount of time after your finish. In fact, Berg urges you to wait to make any big decisions before talking with your coach. Step away for a few days and then sit and take a look at what went right and what didn’t go as planned. Coming at it with a clear head can keep you from making any irrational training decisions — especially if your race was a stepping stone toward a larger goal.
“Communication between athlete and coach is critical this first week after race,” Berg confirms. “If i[t was] a big race, let emotions calm down before making big changes to [any future training] plan.”
PRACTICE YOUR POST-RACE ROUTINE
It is natural to worry you are missing out on the post-race festivities because you have a few things to take care of first, but Thull insists following your routine helps you enjoy the time even more because you will feel better and won’t risk being lightheaded or having tight muscles. You can even add the fun into your post-race routine by socializing with running buddies or sticking around your local running store to chat with staff.
“All runners can kind of take the pressure off their post-run routine by doing the same thing after their big workouts and long runs during practice,” adds Thull. “That way post-race — where there are loads of distractions happening — runners can still hit their routine and kickstart their recovery.”
Thull suggests a post-race routine of: food, talk/walk around, jog, light stretching and foam rolling, followed by the post-race festivities. By keeping your list simple and doing your usual routine, you can ensure you don’t wind up with any additional soreness or tightness after your race.