Quick Turnarounds: Recover and Train During a Full Race Season

How to recover and train between closely spaced races.

By on March 5, 2019 | Comments

The belief that one should recover for one day for every mile raced translates into a month-long break from serious training and racing after a marathon, two months after a 50 miler, and nearly four months following a 100-mile event. That’s a huge chunk of time to be away from what we enjoy doing most. Imagine if we converted this philosophy into kilometers! Joking aside, this suggestion makes sense—recovery, especially after particularly long, rugged, and body- and mind-beating events, is paramount and must be respected.

We’ve discussed some of the factors that will affect your post-ultra downtime in this previous iRunFar article. However, most runners have packed race schedules, so the cyclical process of meaningful rest and productive training can be a difficult maze to navigate. Depending on the spacing of your events, you’ll have one, two, or three aspects—recovery, training, and tapering (or peaking)—to integrate between races. Maintain your health and fitness momentum as you go from one race to the next by following these guidelines.

Between-Race Recovery

At the very least, you require (and deserve) one to two weeks of dedicated recovery after a marathon or ultramarathon. Even if the event was used as a ‘training run,’ chances are good you’ll still require rest. I’ve touched on some basic tips and tricks in this iRunFar recovery piece that can help set you straight after a tough outing. Read on to determine if you’re ready to ramp up training or jump into another event.

  • Finishing a long event, like a marathon or ultra, is a huge accomplishment. Take time before rushing off to the next thing to enjoy your successful finish. If, for some reason, you aren’t pleased with the event’s outcome, self-flagellation by running yourself into the ground immediately post-race isn’t productive. Instead, identify the cracks in your armor, mend them, and improve next time.
  • Avoid running and other high-impact sports until you’ve regained proper range of motion and have no lingering form-altering soreness. In the meantime, cross train on a bike or elliptical or try swimming or yoga.
  • Running during a recovery period is not and should not be your priority. Focus on obligations (like work, family, and personal chores) you’ve neglected while you were in the meat of your training. If you’ve fallen behind on your responsibilities, you may want to consider spacing your events farther apart.
  • Sleep, as discussed in this article, is an excellent barometer of good health. If sleep patterns are askew this may be an indicator that your recovery period should be elongated.
  • Beware of the ‘Thursday-after effect.’ It’s common for experienced distance runners to feel decent for the first few days after an event only to crash hard five to six days post-race. Give your body an opportunity to ride out the storm before making big demands of it again.

The Days Before the Next Race

If you’ve got 14 days or less between races, then you’ll never move past the aforementioned between-race recovery phase during which you’re essentially babying yourself until the start of the your next adventure. If you have a month or more before your next race, I recommend a pre-race taper. This is simply a short sharpening phase where rest, with some race-specific workouts, is favored. Studies show a trained but invigorated body will outperform an overworked body. An athlete who properly manages taper intensity, volume, and duration will have a race-day advantage over the athlete who does not. In my iRunFar article “The Difficult Art of Peaking,” I explore the best approach.

What To Do With the Time Remaining

You can train with purpose with the remaining time between your recovery and taper periods. However, I’ll caution again, before diving back into serious training, pay close attention to the recovery suggestions discussed above. Don’t be in a rush to jump back into heavy training for fear of losing fitness. When your mind and body are ready, use these tips to make the most of your training time between events:

  • Stay engaged. Run distances and workouts that keep you motivated and committed to your next race. If you’ve properly prepared for your last event, fitness maintenance is all you require. Instead of reproducing the same monumental, tiring workouts, perform abbreviated versions of those long runs and tough workouts. At the same time, keep your metabolism revved and the ‘snap’ in your step with speed, stamina, and hill workouts.
  • Take extra care. Because you’ve already significantly stressed your body by racing, consider yourself compromised. Try to balance other non-running stressors like work and personal commitments and modify your training schedule accordingly by, for example, taking an extra day off or reducing the length of a long run.
  • Focus your limited training time on improving weaknesses you discovered during your last event as well as preparing yourself for the terrain and temperatures you’ll encounter on race day. Include cross training and strength work to fortify muscle strength and endurance and injury proof your body.

Racing every two to eight weeks is a tall order. During a heavy-racing block, approach select events as supported training runs. This tactic will be less likely to wear you down, and, if done properly, can prepare you for true goal events. Learn the benefits and how to implement such a strategy in this article. Racing often is fine as long as you utilize the downtime in between wisely in order to stay happy, healthy, and uninjured.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When was the last time you packed two races pretty close together? What races were they and what was your reasoning for this?
  • If you’ve run two significant races pretty close together, what strategies did you use in between to recover, maintain fitness, and peak for the second race? What seemed to work well for you, and what didn’t?
Ian Torrence

Ian Torrence has more than 12 years of experience coaching runners of all levels. Ian has completed more than 220 ultramarathons, with 50+ wins, since his first ultra finish at the 1994 JFK 50 Mile. Ian and his wife, Emily, are online coaches at Sundog Running. Information about his coaching services can be found at SundogRunning.com.