How long should I rest after an ultramarathon?

During ultras, we push our bodies beyond physical limitations, pain and exhaustion. With added elevation and higher altitudes, extreme mountain races are even more taxing on the body.
Your body during an ultra.

Running a 100km over technical mountain terrain is going to beat up your legs — no doubt about it. On top of that, sleep deprivation, combined with the mental effort of race day focus, leaves you with a tired brain and exhausted nervous system. Not to mention the strain on your heart, liver, kidneys, immune and endocrine systems.

Why is recovery so important?

Taking time off between endurance events, allows our muscles to heal, nervous system to reset and our internal organ systems to restore their normal biochemical balance. If we neglect recovery, we risk injury and metabolic burn-out, which can influence the success of future races. My approach to ultrarunning has always been to think long term. I love running, and I want to keep doing it for the rest of my life. Overtraining syndrome is a common illness amongst ultra-endurance athletes and in my opinion, should be avoided at all costs if you want to enjoy longevity in the sport. To avoid burn-out, I space my races well apart to give myself enough time to recover between events.

How long should we rest before we ramp up training again?

Post-race recovery will vary depending on the intensity and duration of your race. After goal races, I take one day off from running for every 10km I raced. I catch up on sleep, eat good quality protein and focus on my active recovery. To keep my legs moving, I do light exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming and yoga. As soon as my legs feel fresh again, I introduce easy 30-40 min runs every other day. After 2-3 weeks of active recovery and light running, I’m usually ready to hit the trails hard again.

Listen to your body.

We have so much technology available to measure training and recovery. If used correctly, these apps can be very useful. However, research has shown that self-monitoring how you feel can be just as effective or even better at detecting and preventing overtraining. The key is to listen to your body. If my easy runs are not yet easy, I will continue training at a low intensity for a few more days.

Refocus your mind.

Our mental recovery is just as important as our physical recovery. Most people don’t realise how mentally exhausting ultramarathons can be. Mental fatigue negatively affects your endurance performance.  So, after a race, I make a conscious effort to enjoy some relaxing activities away from training. Enjoying downtime without feeling guilty has made a big difference to my motivation in training. I found that after a few weeks of rest, my mind is fresh, and I’m ready to focus on my next goal.

Bottom line: Not taking time off, could have you running on empty, but if you recover as hard as you race, you’ll be bouncing back healthy, strong and ready for your next challenge.

Read more about my optimal recovery strategies. 

Happy Running

Tarrin

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