Tacking on an additional session post-race could have a strong effect on your endurance.
Last year, Olympian Galen Rupp made headlines for not only breaking the American record in an indoor 2-mile race, but for doing a workout promptly after setting that mark. While this appeared somewhat crazy to onlookers, it turns out that it’s an approach used by a number of top endurance athletes. It’s the type of workout that sounds intimidating upon first blush, but it may help you up the ante going into your next competitive season.
“The benefit and the physiology behind doing a workout after a race is that it allows a runner to put in a greater total volume of work,” explains Jeff Gaudette, owner and head coach at Runners-Connect. “When racing shorter distances—5K and below—the total volume of hard running is three miles or less, and for advanced runners, this is usually half of what they normally do on a hard day.”
Put simply, when you log a workout after a race, you avoid having race day be a “down” day mileage wise. What’s more, many coaches believe that post-race, our bodies may be more accepting of certain training stimuli.
“Immediately after a race, your body’s hormones are in a state that allows optimal absorption of training,” Gaudette says. Also, there is likely an added mental benefit to ramping up for a quick workout after a hard race. Instead of bellying up to the breakfast bar for a donut and coffee after crossing the finish line, you’re forced to refocus for another hard bout of running.
“It begins to push your mental limits regarding what you believe is possible and not possible with your body,” Gaudette says.
He recommends only doing this type of training early to mid-season in order to avoid overtraining. For the same reason, post-race workouts should only be done after events that are 5 kilometers or less.
“Ideally you want to schedule a post-race workout that addresses your weakness or an energy system you haven’t been targeting a lot already,” he says. “For example, if you’re naturally speedy and doing lots of 400- or 800-meter repeats, go with a tempo or progression run. Or if you’re training for endurance or you lack speed, do some 200s, 400s or 800s.”
Replicating longer race conditions, these workouts will force your body to perform on tired legs. By choosing a post-race workout that targets your shortcomings, you slowly nudge your body into a more balanced state of fitness. To be sure, if you’ve historically lacked a strong finishing kick, 200-meter repeats after a race can help with that. Similarly, for triathletes who feel they lack stamina at the end of long races, a tempo run or longer intervals after a 5K race can help boost performance over the long term.
Since these sessions will take a toll on your body, be sure to be purposeful about scheduling recovery in your training week. Proper rest following these race/workout days will ensure you fully absorb the fitness you hope to gain.
“You will need extra recovery after a race/workout effort like this,” adds Gaudette. “Plan and schedule recovery as if it were a very hard workout needing at least one, if not two, rest or easy days before another hard session.”
5K race + 20-min tempo run
5K race + 8×200 meters
5K race + 4×800 meters