With the number of great races available on the racing calendar today, a question I am often asked is “I have two big races six weeks apart, how can I speed up my recovery from the first race so I can run well at the second one?”
With six weeks between races there is indeed enough time to recover, train, and taper again. With only four weeks, it’s more about recovery and keeping the legs ticking over before the next race.
Preparation for the second race starts the second you cross the finish line of the first event. At this point, your first priority is nutrition. Consuming a drink with both carbohydrates and protein in approximately a 3- or 4-1 ratio, within the first hour, will start the recovery process.
Next, put on some compression tights as there is plenty of research showing that they may have a positive effect on recovery, and none demonstrating that they have a negative impact.
In the first hour or so after finishing, try and keep moving around rather than collapsing on the bed. This will keep your blood flowing to the muscles to help remove waste products from the race you just finished. I wouldn’t recommend ice baths, or anything similar, as there’s research suggesting these practices block training gains. If your race was taking place the very next day, ice baths may help, but if you have 4-6 weeks, then you want to maximise the training benefit of the first race so you go into the second event even stronger and fitter.
Sleep is when all recovery happens. It’s when the body repairs all the damaged cells, so getting as much sleep as you possibly can in the week after the first race is extremely important. Sleeping the night after a tough race can be fitful as your legs keep twitching and your are buzzing with post-race adrenaline, so grabbing naps in the first two days to optimise sleep can help. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep in recovery — it’s likely to have more of an effect than any of the other recovery modalities I discuss below.
During the first two days after the race, go for several walks, 15-20min is plenty, and you are better off doing 3-4 of 15-20min walks rather than one longer one or a short run.
In the initial days, light massages, helping to stimulate blood flow to the legs, will improve recovery. Alternating heat and ice on sore muscles will have a similar effect. Also, try a few minutes of heat followed by a few minutes of applying ice, repeating this 2-3 times once or twice a day.
I would avoid the foam roller until some of the soreness has resided. After a week the foam roller may help work out the last layers of soreness. Whilst the research on foam rollers isn’t conclusive, there is enough support to make their use worthwhile in the recovery process.
Good nutrition throughout the first week will ensure your body can create the right building blocks to repair your muscles. Though I don’t believe any particular foods have any special benefits, I do think making sure you consume a wide variety of vegetables and good sources of fat and protein with every meal is important.
Continue walking regularly each day until the legs have recovered enough to go for a short 20-30min run. This may take 1-3 days depending on the event and how well you trained for it. If you are very sore, don’t worry about forcing yourself to run. Brisk walks several times a day will give you a much better recovery effect than an easy run, and you aren’t going to gain any fitness benefits from a very short, slow recovery run.
Once you are up to running again, build slowly. Fatigue occurs on many levels and even though a 60min run feels great, you may find weariness setting in as soon as you go longer or push harder. In the first seven days, I would stick to 60min runs, or less. In the second week, begin to increase distance but without much intensity at all. By week three, you should be able to resume more normal training, although I would avoid running hard downhills, and stay away from any long and hard tempo runs, as the load on the legs is much higher in these kinds of runs.
By week four, you should be able to do a normal hard week of training before you start tapering off during the two weeks prior to the next race. Even though the legs might be feeling good at this stage, and you may think a two week taper is too long, keep in mind that there will still be some fatigue at a deep level even after four weeks, one which you’ll probably only start feeling late into the next race — so it’s better to have a good taper to give yourself the best chance of racing well.
By Andy DuBois
Andy is an award-winning personal trainer and elite endurance athlete specializing in ultra running. You can find more useful info on his ultra running coach website (www.mile27.com.au).
Photo credit: Assaf de Courcy Arbiser