Taking advantage of the post-race window can expedite gains in fitness to be reaped during peak season.

The practice of doing a workout after a race isn’t such a foreign concept anymore; it is important, however, to not only understand the reasoning behind the extra workout, but also how to smartly tailor the workout to fit the race.

“I generally think of a post-race workout as an ‘advanced’ training concept,” cautions professional runner and coach, Malindi Elmore. “However, with experienced athletes needing to get a bit more work in their week, then a post-race workout can work really well. This allows an athlete to get the stimulus of a race effort while not losing significant volume or quality in a week, particularly when the race is in a training phase.”

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Before you begin adding more hard running to your race days, be realistic about your level of experience, fitness, injury history, and recoverability.

The Benefits

A race presents a unique situation to a runner physiologically, psychologically, and hormonally. Effectively taking advantage of this post-race window can expedite gains in fitness to be reaped during peak season.

“Athletes will find that 1-2 workouts post-early season race will go a long way to improving efficiency at high-end aerobic running and lead to a nice transition from early-season base/strength work to the polishing workouts and needed taper/rest of a championship season,” explains exercise physiologist and coach, Sean Coster. “You have a hard race effort that requires the high-threshold motor units to be utilized, which isn’t always the case in workouts with recovery, so then adding a workout after the race can lead to challenging these fast-twitch glycolitic fibers to become more enduring and/or powerful, depending on the work that is being done…especially with marathon/half-marathon training [you can stimulate] the fuel storage in the muscles by undergoing the aggressive depletion that occurs with a race followed by a workout.”

Fit the Workout to the Race

The aim for the post-race workout should be to tap into the energy system not stressed during the race. A shorter (800/1,500m) race would couple well with a 12-15-minute tempo run and a longer race (5K/10K) would fit with 200-300-meter intervals.

“The workout following the race should have a specific goal. ‘Strength’ in the general term is something easier to build with hills, long runs or a typical workout during the week. Focusing the post-race workouts around high-end aerobic running and development of aerobic power are much more useful,” says Coster.

Factors to consider in prescribing the workout are the point in season, a runner’s specific area of weakness, targeted training volume, and the resilience — or ability to recover and withstand injury — of an athlete.

Sample Workouts

  • From Coster: 5K race, 15-minute recovery and some jogging, 3-5 x 800m at 5K goal pace with 2-minute recovery jog between reps.
  • From Coster: 5K race, 20-minute recovery with some running, 6 x 300m at mile race-pace with 60-second rest between reps, 5-minute rest, 4-6 x 200m accelerations with last 100m under 800m race-pace/full recovery between each. “Finishing power wins or loses races and is what allows an athlete to move from 500-800m away from the pack with an acceleration,” says Coster
  • From Elmore: 800m or 1500m race, short break, 12-15-minute tempo run for effort, 2 sets 4 x 100m sprints with 2 minutes between reps and a 5-minute jog between sets.
  • From coach Jack Daniels: Add extra miles to a post-race cooldown to make it a long run. “I often have my runners add some miles as cooldown after a road or track race, which qualifies that day as being a ‘long-run’ day, which eliminates having a long run the day after the race,” explains Daniels. “I have also had some runners do 6-8 x 200m reps after a relatively low-stress race, which works quite well.”

The Mental Component

“I always think your races are at 100 percent and the post-race workout is completely secondary,” states Elmore. “I think this is a concept best used for higher-level racers and they should have the maturity to not sabotage or hold back in a race.”

Never go into a race with thoughts of the workout lingering in your mind. Holding back in the race will ultimately defeat the purpose.

A note to coaches: Both Elmore and Coster agree that at times not telling the athlete about the workout, or being vague in the specifics, can help ensure the race mindset isn’t tampered with. “Instructing the athlete to race their best and that there will be some type of post-race workout following that will be dependent on how the race went and how the athlete feels. This is the value of having a coach that knows an athlete well and excellent coach/athlete communication,” expresses Coster.

For races you are effectively ‘training through’ or where the level of competition isn’t quite there, a runner may only hit 90-95 percent of their full potential — in the end, however, a race is always a race. Don’t sacrifice the race for the workout, but crossing the finish line and adding to your workload might just set you up for a PR come peak season.


About The Author:

Caitlin Chock set the then National High School 5K Record (15:52.88) in 2004. Now a freelance writer and artist she writes about all things running and designs her own line of running shirts. You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.