How to Recover after your First Race
Congratulations, you have just completed your first race or you’ve just gone up a distance! What do you do now? How is it best to recover?
For someone new to racing, everything goes into planning for your big day but very little consideration is given to the hours or days after the event (except perhaps which food or drink you want to ‘smash’ on the finish line...!). Without introducing too strict a regime, some small considerations can be really helpful to get you back moving in good time to make the Monday morning coffee conversation about how well you are doing after such a big endurance feat!
What should you be doing to recover after an event?
There are distinct phases which demand your attention. Firstly, the few hours after your event, then the next few days and finally longer term; the next couple of weeks or so. As mentioned before, it is less about introducing a strict regime that takes the fun out of racing, but more about helping you bounce back into your normal life.
The immediate aftermath
Straight after an event the importance needs to be given to re-fuelling and re-hydration. Some form of protein needs to be consumed within minutes after an event (Female athletes this should be less than 20 mins. Male athletes you have little longer). This is to help the recovery process and rebuild muscle that you have broken down during the event. However, you should also be looking to rehydrate as well. It will be very tricky to finish the race hydrated so allow for this fact (especially on warm days). Start rehydrating immediately. Salty drinks are really good for this. Having another sweet drink isn’t going to be top of your list and as part of a sponsorship of an event, this can usually be the first option at the finish line! Many people reach for a beer. There is certainly no harm in having a celebratory couple, but remember you probably have to drive back and also it will start dehydrating you fairly quickly if you are having more than one or two!
You should also be mindful of the conditions and get warm or keep cool straight after the event. Make sure you bring layers and if possible a change of clothing (at least in your car) so you can keep warm after an event. It is also worth packing some baby wipes if there are not showers on site to help freshen yourself up after the event (your support crew will thank you!).
The next few days
You have just completed your first race - now what? Well for a start you need to reflect and celebrate. You should be really proud of your achievement and you should celebrate your success. Either just recognising it or perhaps going out for dinner with some family or friends is a wonderful way to relax after having completed one of your goals. The change of focus will be good for you and it will force some time off which will actually help you recover!
It is also worth doing some form of reflection on the race. “What went well?” and “what would you do differently?” are two important questions to ask yourself to gain an insight on your race performance and try to learn from the experience for next time. For example, it may be something as simple as arrive 30 mins earlier than anticipated to allow for traffic! Or, it may be more substantial like doing more brick sessions. Both are useful things to remind yourself for next time, so write them down while you can!
Otherwise, take these next few days nice and easy. Maybe jump back into an easy club session but sit at the back of your group, do some shorter and gentle bike rides or easy runs to keep moving and maybe have a sports massage to loosen off any muscles that are particularly tight. All in all, take it easy though. No need to rush back, your body will thank you for this later!
Depending on the length of your event, the above process may be extended by a few days. However, eventually you will want to return to proper training. The easiest way to do that is to have another event lined up or to sign up for an event after you have completed your first one. This will firstly help you with motivation and secondly it will help you recover from the post race blues where you end up feeling down due to the achievement of your race being over. In the extreme, Olympians get this after the four year build into the Games. Afterwards they lose purpose and can get quite low or even depressed. So take a leaf out of their book and refocus your mind and energy onto something new or exciting. For example, if you have done your first sprint distance race, focussing on a fast park run a couple of weeks later can be a great motivator.
Finally review your action points from the reflections you made in the days after the event. What can you work on next to be a better athlete and indeed a better person? How are you going to do that? Maybe review the results sheet? How could you get into the next bracket: Top half of the race, top third of your age category, maybe top 10, or even a podium? There is always another step, the question is what will yours be?