One of the questions most people have is, "I have run my race, now what do I do? When do I run again? Should I just take a few days off and do nothing?" The answer is that while taking rest after a long race is advisable, doing nothing is not the answer. You still need to flush out the garbage that your muscles built up during the race. You still need to make sure that your muscles recover properly from the race before you start training for the next race, otherwise you risk injury.
Recovering can mean different things to different people. How people recover is truly an individual decision. One thing that should be universally done is foam rolling. Foam rolling the legs and the entire body will help your body recover the fastest. It will flush out any garbage that is in the muscles, and help minimize any knots that you developed during your run. It will also get your muscles ready for the next run. The video below shows you how to roll out the muscles in the legs.
These exercises should be done each time after you run, not just after race day. But when speaking of recovery these exercises should be done a few times the day of the race, after you have run. Then a few times during the day for the next two days to make sure that your muscles have returned to normal resting length and will be ready to go again for the next race.
Race recovery a personal decision
In terms of what activity or how much of an activity should be done is really a game day decision and a personal preference. Most times after running a race people want the mental and physical break from having run a race so they want to take a week off from the demands of training or even having to follow a running schedule. They opt not to run. That does not mean that you should do nothing though. Pushing your body to do a longer race and then just sitting down afterwards is not good for the recovery of your muscles, especially if you plan on training for another race.
Swimming, walking, or cycling for an hour the day after a race is advised. The hour should be at a relaxed pace, no intervals or speed work, just a long 60 minute ride, swim, walk will allow for the muscles to gently and quickly recover. You should do this for a minimum of two days after the race but it is okay to do it for an entire week after the race. If you begin to go back on a training schedule and your muscles are sore then you should continue doing the long slow recovery workouts until you feel that you can run without feeling sore or pain. Running through it will set up you for injury.
Some people prefer to go out and run the next day after a race. Again, this varies from person to person. Do not feel that you have to do this. If you run and you feel extremely sore and feel that you are not able to run with your normal stride, then you need to find another activity to do to recover. You should run short slower distances. No speed work, no hill work, no track workouts until at least two days after the race and even longer until you feel you are able to do your normal stride. After that two day mark has hit and you feel that your muscles have recovered then you can resume your normal training schedule.
Listening to your body is essential in recovery from any race. Do not push through fatigue, soreness and pain because someone told you that you should be running a day or even a week after a big race. This is simply not the case and all you will do is injure yourself. You need to take the time to allow your body to return to normal and this takes different amounts of time for different people. Trying to force yourself into a cookie cutter recovery time could affect the rest of the racing season and beyond.