So you just completed your goal race for the season. Congratulations!

Excited? You should be. Proud? Darn right you are.

I hope you’ve had a chance to party.

But now what?

After spending months training for a specific race — with a detailed plan and a specific goal — it’s overwhelming to be left out on your own with no real running focus or direction.

That’s why many runners find themselves in a post-race funk filled with Fritos and Netflix … not long runs and epic views.

But instead of succumbing to the funk, take actions that bring you back stronger than ever. Actions or tactics that reset the body and mind for a period of maintenance or your next big adventure. Whichever you choose.

My strategy for avoiding the post-race funk consists of three such tactics which I share with you below.

1. Recover Smarter — The Post-Race Recovery Plan

Before looking too far ahead, start with a plan for the days and weeks immediately following your race. Recovery was a big part of training, and now that the training is over it’s just as important before your next chapter.

Smart recovery allows you to bounce back quickly without increasing the risk of injury, and use the strength you’ve built leading up to the race for future goals.

I’m going to share general strategies for post-race recovery, but first there are two rules you should always keep in mind:

  1. During recovery always listen to your body. Different races will impact your body in different ways; terrain, elevation, and weather will all factor into how you recover.
  2. Overall fitness levels and running experience play a major role in how quickly you bounce back. If you think you need more time, you probably need more time.

Every race needs some sort of recovery period, whether that just be a few days or several weeks. The length of the recovery depends largely on the length and effort required to complete the race.

Here are a few general guidelines for how long it takes to recover based on the distance of your race:

  • Shorter races of 10K and under: 2-3 days of complete rest or easy running. Harder efforts can pick up after 4 days.
  • Half Marathon: 4-5 days of complete rest or easy running. Harder efforts can pick up after 6-7 days.
  • Full Marathon: 1 week of rest and low intensity active recovery. Ease back in from there.
  • 50K Ultramarathon: 1 week to 10 days of rest and low intensity active recovery. Ease back in from there.
  • 50 Mile Ultramarathon: 10 days to 2 weeks of rest and low intensity active recovery. Ease back in from there.
  • 100K to 100 Mile Ultramarathon: Listen to the body and let your legs (and feet) be the guide. If you plan to continue training, ease back in over the course of a few weeks.

To ease back in means to go by feel, increasing effort levels and distance as it feels appropriate.

Sample Post-Race Recovery Period after a 50K Ultramarathon

To give you a better idea of those rules in action, here’s an example of how I may recover after a 50K ultramarathon:

  • Day 1: 25 minutes of light jogging and hiking followed by stretching and foam rolling
  • Day 2: No running with stretching and foam rolling
  • Day 3: Off or 30 minutes of easy paced running or yoga
  • Day 4: 30-40 minutes of easy cycling or other low impact cross training
  • Day 5: 40 minutes of easy paced running
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: 60 minutes of easy paced running
  • Day 8: 30 minutes of easy paced running
  • Day 9: Off
  • Day 10: 45 minutes of easy to moderately paced running
  • Day 11: 45-60 minutes of easy to moderately paced running
  • Day 12: 45 minutes of moderately paced running or moderate cross-training effort
  • Day 13: Off
  • Day 14: 90 minute long run

In addition to the running, stretching, low impact cross-training, eating clean, and sleeping (lots and lots of sleeping) are all valuable tools for post-race recovery.

You can see there’s plenty of flexibility within that schedule, but my example refrains from prematurely rushing into harder workouts.

2. Set a New Goal (Before You Lose the Excitement)

There’s no better time to set your next big goal than while you’re in the middle of the post-race high.

The stoke level is through the roof, and anything feels possible. Don’t let that feeling slip by.

Start by thinking big, with whatever feels the most inspiring. Keep in mind that inspiring isn’t necessarily longer. Your new goal could be a PR at the distance you just ran or even a shorter distance race.

Or, if you’re anything like me, then you may want to push yourself in distance or difficulty.

The new goal race also doesn’t have to be anytime soon. It could be several months from now to allow for a solid break in training and time to explore other things. The point of setting your goal now is to simply tap into the post-race excitement, and allow the new race or adventure to keep your motivation levels high during what is traditionally a down period.

3. Stay Active

And finally, once the legs are ready and you want to get back at it, stay active to maintain your fitness and strength.

That may mean continuing with a regular running schedule, or this could be your opportunity to think outside the box:

There are countless ways to stay active and fit that maintain your base but still allow for a breath of fresh activity.

If you are ready to jump right back in to a regular training schedule, there can still be room for flexibility … as long as you remain consistent.

Oxymoron? Maybe. Let’s just ignore that.

My point is to keep runs regular, varying them in speed, distance, and effort as you wish.

Maintain roughly 4-5 runs per week, including a longer run with 25-50% more distance than a typical run. For example, if you’re running 4 times per week, the typical schedule could look like:

  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: 5 Miles
  • Wednesday: 6 Miles
  • Thursday: 4 Miles
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday: 7-10 Miles
  • Sunday: Cross-training adventure

With flexibility depending on your schedule or any exciting outings you may have planned.

This will help maintain your mileage base and allow for a quick jump back into focused training when the time comes.

Should you take a complete break from running?

Many runners need a break from running after a long training cycle. There’s nothing wrong with taking weeks or even a few months completely off from running if that’s what you need. Hitting the pause button has shown to have benefits for the mind and body when it needs it.

But even if you do need a break from running, I encourage you to remain active so it’s easier to restart next training cycle.

Don’t Fall Victim to the Post-Race Funk

If you aren’t careful, the post-race funk will come knocking, and it’s a depressing door to open.

But with the right strategy you can use the energy, strength, and excitement from your recent achievement to your advantage …

Setting and preparing for your next goal with a stronger foundation than ever before.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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