Your big race is over. You finally did it!
Maybe you even ran a big personal best – well done and well deserved! But now you might be thinking, what do I do now?
It’s a common problem for a lot of runners: figuring out what to do after your goal race is complete.
Do you take a few weeks or months off from running? Start from scratch after a week off? Keep running so you don’t lose any fitness?
The choices are endless. But there are right and wrong ways to run after a big race depending on your goals.
Here’s your action plan to make sure you keep making progress and avoid the training pitfalls many runners experience.
It was a “One and Done” race
If you’re the kind of person who set a stretch goal to run your race and you have no interest in running again, then you don’t have to do anything.
Move on and pick another activity like cycling, basketball, or hiking. Get immersed and have fun with it just like you did with running.
But I’m going to assume that since you’re reading this site, you want to continue running (and are obviously smart and ridiculously good looking for being a SR reader).
Now you just have to decide what kind of runner you are…
“I have no races coming up, but I probably will in a few months…”
Most runners fall into this category. You haven’t planned your race schedule yet, but you want to start running soon.
It’s important to plan recovery into your training just like you plan long runs, workouts, and strength exercises. Your legs – and indeed, entire body – need time to recover from your goal race and months of training.
Most of the runners that I work with have structured recovery just like structured training – long-term success with running demands this balance.
Use this chart to choose a general number of days to take off from running, depending on the length of your goal race (this doesn’t apply for tune-up races as they’re not at the end of a “season”).
As soon as you’ve taken some time off and start running again, you can get back to your normal training volume within a few weeks. Use the Goldilocks Principle to plan your training and get back to your baseline workload.
Once you’re doing a baseline amount of training (not too much, but not too little), you can easily transition to running more volume or intensity. From this fitness level, it’s simple to scale your training to whatever races you want to run in the future.
“I just ran a marathon…”
If you’ve just run a marathon (or ultramarathon), you need to take the most conservative recovery approach because of the significant damage your body has inevitably incurred over 26.2 miles.
And that damage goes beyond muscle soreness: you fatigue your endocrine system (responsible for proper hormonal balance) and central nervous system (responsible for the communication between your brain and muscles). Some research has even shown that the heart is damaged in runners who aren’t adequately prepared for the marathon – and it takes up to three months to repair itself.
If you come back to running too soon – or plan any races within 4-6 weeks of your marathon – you’ll disrupt that recovery process and prolong the time you need to get back to regular training.
Be smart with your recovery time – while it might sound fun to go out drinking more often than usual and skip sleep because you think “I’m not even running right now!” you’re just delaying proper recovery.
Here’s how to maximize your time off from running:
- Take a few ice baths in the days after your marathon to reduce swelling and inflammation (avoid prolonged use of anti-inflammatories – they just prevent your body from repairing itself)
- Catch up on sleep and try to get more than usual
- Make sure your diet is nutrient-rich – use these time saving tips to eat healthy
- Don’t replace running with high-intensity exercise like basketball, CrossFit, or ultimate frisbee – that defeats the purpose of recovery
Once you start running, it will still take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to feel “normal” again. It’s my recommendation to keep your volume relatively low, your workouts easy, and your expectations for performance very low. Just focus on the process of running.
“I successfully lost weight and got healthier…now what?”
First of all – great job! Running is one of the best ways to get healthy and lose weight. But now that you’ve done just that, it’s not a great idea to quit cold turkey. You might gain some weight back and revert back to your unhealthy behaviors.
Besides, hopefully you’ve made running a habit that you want to continue for years to come!
So instead of running purely for general health or weight loss, shift your focus to more performance-oriented goals like running a new PR or completing an even longer race.
If you finished a 10k, shoot for a half-marathon. If you ran your first 5k, try running an even faster 5k.
The options are endless, but here are a few examples of new ways to challenge yourself:
- Complete an obstacle race like Warrior Dash
- Run your first marathon
- Set a new PR at any distance
- Try a triathlon
Just remember to keep having fun – running can teach you a lot about yourself but don’t make it a chore. Stay inspired.
“I’m a race addict – I have a full race schedule!”
There’s always some of you weirdos in the group. Do you have a jam packed schedule with a race every 1-3 weeks?
Sure, it sounds fun and I bet you love the competition, social nature of racing, and the t-shirts. But remember that if you focus on constant racing, you focus on no particular goal at all.
This is classic example of the Try Everything, Try Nothing approach to running in action. How can you train consistently for a goal race if you don’t really have a goal race?
Races are a blast, but always focus on the process of training. Some runners focus on races and don’t focus on training (and they wonder why they’ve hit a plateau).
So now I’ll challenge you and encourage a shift away from races and to better training.
Ask yourself, “Is my training as good as it can be?” Hopefully you can answer YES to most of these questions:
- Do I run strides?
- Do I run a consistent long run every 1-2 weeks?
- Does my training include running-specific strength training?
- Do I get enough consistent sleep?
- Is a dynamic warm-up a regular part of my training?
- Do I challenge myself with relatively high mileage?
- Do I run race-specific workouts?
- Most importantly: Am I consistent?
Remember that races are like tests. They show your fitness level. But just like in school, you shouldn’t take a test every day. Instead, spend most of your time learning (training).
The Truth Behind Success Stories
I’ve recently written several training plans for people who tell me that they want to be the next big success story on Strength Running.
I couldn’t be happier and more hopeful for them. When anybody I coach – either 1-on-1 or through a custom training plan – succeeds, that makes me more grateful than when I set my own personal bests (seriously).
But it’s not really the whole story. Success stories don’t paint the whole picture because the “success” is just one milestone on a journey to becoming the best runner you can be.
Consider that one of my runners was a former pack-and-a-half per day smoker who ran a sub-1:50 half marathon in less than a year of running. Success, right? I think so.
Then she ran a 3:42 marathon about six months later.
Three months later she ran a 1:38 half marathon.
Another three months later she ran a 3:29 marathon.
Which one of these is the real success story? Well, they all are.
The lesson here is that one race does not define you. Even if it’s a huge accomplishment you’ll probably be able to do even better a few months later if you focus on the process of training in between those races.
Personal Bests are addictive – but be smart with your post-race running and you’ll continue to take time off your performances.
Need help with planning your training? Get a custom training plan tailored to your individual strengths, schedule, and fitness level. Get all the details here.