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Nothing beats the sense of achievement we get after completing a race we trained so hard for. If you recently ran in the Straits Times Run in the City 2016 or the OSIM Sundown Marathon, you’re in the right place. Combined with the rush of endorphin and adrenaline, the taste of victory is heavenly (and a little bit salty from all the sweat, but we can look past that).
We discover a newfound love for running, we’re ready to hit the track again in the morning, we crave the all-time-high feeling and we’re hooked. But experts warn against training too soon after a race. So, how long should we wait?
One Day After the Race
After a long, vigorous running session, our bodies would have drained its glycogen storage. Glycogen is an important fuel for energy. When the body runs out of glycogen, we will experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) which includes dizziness and hallucinations, definitely not the kind of ‘high’ we are looking for.
Prolonged low blood glucose level will make the body go into panic mode and produce cortisol, a hormone that could break down muscle tissue for energy. Safe to say, muscle wasting is not the best way to prepare for a strong comeback.
Instead, spend the first 24 hours after the race feasting. This is the one day we have a legit reason to hit the buffet instead of the gym. The body needs to replenish the glycogen, so consumption of high-carb foods is essential. You can tell your running buddy now, “Sorry, can’t run today, I have my plate(s) full.”
One Week After the Race
The body goes through a lot when we run. The heart rate increases, the joints must bear five to six times of the body weight since exercise puts extra weight on them, and the lungs work harder. Just to mention a few... Simply put, the body needs rest.
Experts recommend giving the body one day of rest for every mile run. That means no training for 26 days after a marathon and 13 days after a half-marathon (thank heaven for Netflix, or what?).
Toby Tanser, the author of More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way, wrote “Kenyans are excellent at realising the most scientific, effective, superb form of resting the body is to do absolutely zilch…the term ‘active rest’ does not apply.” We probably should take note of this considering that in the running scene, Kenyans are practically the Beyoncé #whoruntheworld.
However, if being a couch burrito is not your cup of tea, and post-race blues are too much to bear, you can start doing light exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling. The keyword here is light, which means your heart should not pass 60-65% of the max heart rate and the duration of exercise should be kept to less than 60 minutes.
Of course, the recovery rate varies from person to person depending on the level of fitness, age, and the distance ran. You can follow this guide to determine the number of recovery days after a race.
Now that we’re refuelled and healed enough, we can start staggering our comeback. Start with low-intensity exercise and take a break day in between more hard-core workouts. It is crucial to listen to our bodies during this period to determine if we are ready for a business-as-usual kind of run.
Going weeks without running and letting our sneakers gather dust are scary thoughts for many of us who profess running as our one true love. We get separation anxiety and not to mention the FOMO (fear of missing out) every time we see our running squad train without us.
Nevertheless, what are a few weeks compared to the many more we can enjoy training in our fittest, sharpest form for the next race? In the words of Pete Magill who holds three American age-group records, “In running, it's not the training we do that counts; it's the training from which we can recover.”
“It is crucial to listen to our bodies during this period to determine if we are ready for a business-as-usual kind of training.”
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