You invested days, weeks, and months to get yourself to the finish line. Now it stands right in front of you. It's just a few strides away.
Despite your fatigue, you summon one last surge and power across the line. You did it. You conquered your race!
If you stayed healthy and trained properly, your race went well and you're awash in a profound feeling of exhilaration. If things didn't pan out the way you hoped, you might be awash in disappointment. Whether your race was a glowing success or an epic disaster, you're likely mulling over a few questions.
How can I improve on this performance? Why did my race go poorly? What now?
Regardless of how your race panned out, I've got a few ideas for how you can best move forward. So, if you need a little help sussing out the best way to proceed with your training after conquering your race, read on.
Rest and recover.
It's likely you're feeling a bit tired, sore, and beat up in the wake of conquering your race. It's important to respect the messages your body sends you and allow some time to recover from what was likely a maximal effort. The general rule of thumb around recovery is about a day per mile.
So, if you ran a hard 5K, you'll likely bounce back pretty quickly and feel fine in a few days. If you just conquered a marathon, you likely won't be fully recovered for 2-3 weeks. Whatever distance you covered on race day, your body likely needs some rest and recovery.
I'm not saying you 'can't' run or be active during this 'recovery' period. But, keep things light and easy. If you're feeling markedly sore, doing a searing session of intervals at the track is probably not the best idea.
Take a break from running.
Even the best runners on the planet logging 100+ miles/week take breaks. Most of the time these breaks occur after a key race that was preceded by a long and challenging training cycle. If the best on the planet are taking breaks from running following a race, consider following suit.
Your body needs a break. Take a day, week, or a couple weeks off entirely. Avoid any substantive running.
If you can't resist the urge to do something, try some easy, light cross-training (cycling, spinning, swimming) in lieu of running. If you can't resist the urge to run, keep all of it slow and easy for awhile. Be gentle with your body following a race.
A break from running can also help you rediscover your running mojo. Once your body is healed, you'll feel spry and ready to segue into next training cycle. It's a lot easier to segue into structured training again if your body is happy.
If your race WAS an epic disaster, a break from running might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
You need to allow sufficient to fully recover from your race. But, you don't want to lose your hard earned running fitness. I totally get it.
I generally wouldn't recommend jumping back into serious training immediately following your race. But, doing a scaled back version of your 'peak' week of training can help you maintain most of your running fitness for several weeks. Start with about 60% of what you were doing before you entered taper.
Let's assume you were training for a half marathon and your peak week of training included three runs (5 miles, 5 miles, and 10 miles). If you want to maintain most of your running fitness, start your 'maintenance plan' at 3 miles, 3 miles, and 6 miles.
You can keep the mileage static for a few weeks or gradually increase your mileage over the course of a few weeks. A maintenance plan like this will help you maintain most of your running fitness for 4-6 weeks.
Get reacquainted with your life.
Training is tough. I'm not just talking about the act of running. I'm talking about simply finding a way to carve out the time and energy to make your training happen. You likely made numerous compromises and sacrifices during your training cycle.
Maybe your social life suffered. Perhaps you invested less time in your other passions. Undoubtedly, some part of your life was compromised during your training cycle.
Whether you're unsure about how to proceed with your running or not, spend some time indulging your other passions. If you haven't seen some of your friends for a while, line up some quality time with them.
Spending some time and energy getting reacquainted with your life after a tough training cycle is important. Doing this can help you recharge mentally. If and when you decide to start training again in earnest, you'll likely feel more enthusiastic about your next training cycle and running goal(s).
Training doesn't just demand physical energy. It demands mental energy. You want to make sure your body and your head are in the right place before you embark on a new training cycle.
Pull the trigger on another race.
One of the best ways to kickstart a new training cycle is to register for another race. I'm not necessarily saying do it immediately following your race. But, when your body feels fresh again, when you head feels like it's in the right place, pull the trigger.
If your race was abysmal, I understand why you might be hesitant to sign up for another one. But, the truth is you're not really a runner until you have a crappy race. And, running another one may may be exactly the kind of palate cleansing you need.
Getting another race on the calendar can help you run further, faster, or help exorcise the demons of a bad race.