I am running Cal International in a couple weeks and am hoping for a PR. What’s an appropriate amount of time to take off after the race? And how soon after the race can I start training again?
This is a great question, and it lends to a greater discussion surrounding the importance of building pre-planned recovery blocks into your yearly training plan.
While racing a hard marathon will definitely necessitate a recovery period of relaxed training in the days and weeks that follow, the long training cycle that culminates in that race also requires a dedicated recovery period before you begin training in earnest again for another key race. The timing of Cal International sets you up nicely for an end-of-the-year break and puts you in a position to really start building momentum in the early stages of 2015.
Following a hard marathon that comes at the end of a long, demanding training cycle, I suggest a 2-4 week recovery block that I like to refer to as “detraining.” The goal is to put your relationship with your training schedule on hold and allow yourself to get a little out of shape. Sounds counterproductive to achieving your future racing goals, right? I promise you it’s not. Look no further than the recovery practices employed by some of the best long-distance runners in the world.
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Alberto Salazar, coach of top runners such as Olympic medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, has his athletes take two dedicated recovery periods per year, usually following an intense five-month cycle of training and racing. Each recovery period begins with two weeks of no running whatsoever followed by two weeks of unfocused easy running before the resumption of a structured training schedule. It’s also not uncommon for many top Kenyans to take a complete month off from running following a key race before they start training for the next big race on their calendar. Arturo Barrios, the great Mexican runner and the first person to run under one hour for the half marathon, was known for taking a complete break from training every October, according to Michael Sandrock’s book, Running With The Legends. “If you train 365 days every year, and you don’t take a break, you might do it for two or three years, but then it’s going to get to you,” he’s quoted as saying.
So how should you structure your recovery block following a key race? The answer is going to vary depending on the athlete and the length of the specific buildup before the key event.
As a general rule, I have my athletes take 1 week completely off from running for every uninterrupted 12-week block of training they completed before their key race. That’s right, no running. Zero. Does this mean a license to sit on the couch and watch TV all day? Well, you can, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it, especially if you plan on returning to training in a few weeks. Rather, think of your time off from running after a race as an “active” recovery period. While the occasional complete day off from any form of exercise is good for you every once in a while, I encourage my athletes to aim for at least 30 minutes of non-running activity to keep body and mind engaged while they’re not following a strict training schedule. Recreational cycling and swimming are great choices, but even just walking, hiking, playing with your dog, surfing, skiing, or doing some other form of exercise you didn’t have time for while you were training for your race will do nicely. The key to active recovery is both mental and physical: mental in that it’s free from the stress of training and doesn’t feel like an “obligatory” workout; physical in that active recovery is low-impact activity, but enough that you break a light sweat and feel physically stimulated.
Follow your time off from running with 1-2 weeks of casual, every-other-day easy runs (30-60 minutes) before reintroducing long runs and focused workouts into your weekly routine. For example, if you trained for 12 straight weeks leading up to your last marathon, you would take the next seven days off from running before lacing your shoes back up again every other day for 2 weeks of easy running.
The reasons for taking a planned break from training after a key race are as much mental as they are physical. Training is certainly a fun and exciting process, but it’s also hard work, and its cumulative effects are a grind on your mind as well as your body. Aside from letting your body repair itself from weeks and months of hard training, a planned break also gives your mind a rest from the obligatory feeling of needing to get up every morning to put in purposeful, stressful workouts. Use this planned recovery period of time off and unfocused running to rejuvenate your body and renew your enthusiasm to start chasing your next big racing goal!
A version of this article appeared in The Official Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide To Marathon & Half -Marathon Training. Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.