How long does it take to recover from an ultra?
The Ultra X season is about to kick off in Sri Lanka and for many of our competitors this will mark the beginning of a busy year of racing. Whether you are looking to perform well at various challenges, fit an event into a training plan or simply get back into a routine after an ultra marathon, the question of how long do I need to recover comes up a lot.
A common theory states that you should take one day off for every mile raced. However, this guideline was really developed to prevent burnout after harder and shorter efforts and doesn’t really work for the ultrarunning world! How many serious ultrarunners take six months off after a 250 km multistage such as the Marathon Des Sables?
The answer to the question is probably not what most want to hear as it depends hugely. As any ultrarunner or coach will tell you, there are a multitude of factors that play into your post-ultra recovery time, so instead of going by a hard and fast rule we recommend considering the following:
Ultrarunning is no different from any skill; after a lot of time spent practicing it, the body normalizes it. If challenged frequently during training, year after year, we get better at adjusting to and recovering from the strains placed on it. Runners who’ve accumulated countless hours on their feet recover faster than runners who have just completed their first ultra. If your body is used to consistently running lots of miles fatigued, then easy running shortly after an ultra is not unusual. However, if this is your first time and the body is feeling it, enjoy your accomplishment, rest up, and take some time off.
The human body is a delicate machine. Athletes who are prone to injury should take a conservative approach when they return to training after an ultra marathon. Running with pain is not normal. If running hurts or if you suspect that it’s going to hurt, tread carefully, cross train while the issue mends itself and do not be afraid of doing absolutely nothing.
A mental break is as important as a physical one and there are two parts to psychological recovery: celebration and redirection. First, it’s important to celebrate your achievement. Second, good or bad, assess the race, don’t just push it into the past and focus on the next one, instead honestly evaluate the feelings that came from it. You are ready to go when you are excited to get back to training and feel physically fresh and hungry for the next challenge.
Ultras aren’t easy! Expect to be thrashed even on a good day. When planning various races over the course of a season it is important to set aside specific post-race periods to concentrate on recuperation. That said, until the race has happened it is impossible to know how much recovery you will need.
The biggest misconception made on recovery is that it happens quickly, and the biggest mistake athletes make is getting back into structured training too soon when they feel ‘ok’.
To be a healthy ultrarunner and continue enjoying the sport for a long time, it’s essential to give your mind and body a proper break in between events.
For many athletes, running is an integral part of their lifestyle, which means the recovery period following a race requires patience and an unfamiliar change to your routine. At the end of the day know that committing to recovery is as vital as committing to your training.