Friday, May 14, 2010

What Now? The Next Steps After a Big Race

So you've just finished your first big race. Do you feel on top of the world? Invincible? Wanna try for twice that distance? In a month or two? Really? Let's talk this out.

In the first few days after a race, particularly if it's been a positive and successful experience, I have a mix of feelings. I feel proud of my performance and accomplishments, but I also feel a void because I'm no longer "in training." So then, I start wanting to take on another challenge, right away. I've learned, though, that sometimes it's better to take things slowly.

Being "in training" for a race is something special. I always complain about how tired I am in the weeks leading up to an event, but miss the focus that training gave me when the race has ended. Often, I've found myself plunging back into a running program right away, with only a few days of rest. I didn't have anything specific I was training for, and no reason to keep my milage up at the level that it was. I just didn't want to lose the fitness level that I had attained before I ran my race. Not surprisingly, a few weeks later, I would find myself dealing with nagging aches and pains, or even outright injuries. Then I'd be forced to take time off.

Now, when I finish a race, I try to keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember when you were "in training" and you complained about those various aches and pains in your (insert body part here)? Well, they didn't magically disappear just because you got a PR. Now is the time to take care of your body. Figure out where the problem areas are and work to rehab them.
  • Unless you're planning on running another long race in the next two weeks, you should decrease your mileage. This isn't an exact science, by any means. I take my mileage back to the point that it was midway in my training, but you may be able to do more or less. Just remember that your body needs to recover from the stress you've put on it (before you can stress it again!).
  • Returning to a routine is good - forcing yourself to do too much too soon is bad. I am always anxious to get back to lifting weights, cross training, group exercise classes - all those things I couldn't do when I had to run for two or more hours every day. Now is definitely the time to go back to those other areas of your personal fitness. Just don't try to tackle everything in one day. You'll get into a "normal" routine again before you know it.
  • You should plan on doing something else, and soon. It's just as easy to do too little for too long after a big race. Maybe you're sick of running or training. Maybe racing just isn't your thing. Maybe you're still sore or creaky or even injured from the race. Regardless of what's going on, it's important to start setting goals for yourself again. You don't have to pick another race or set a weekly goal mileages, either. When I was injured, my goals had to do with my rehab, i.e. "I want to be able to do 30 leg lifts with good form by the end of the week." It's normal to feel tired or discouraged after a race. A return to goal-setting will help to boost your confidence and also put your fitness back into perspective.
Again, it's another loose list of things to think about, but this is definitely what I'm dealing with, day to day, after this last half marathon.

We'll talk again, soon.

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