How long do you need to recover after an Ultra race?

Remarkably soon after you cross the UTA finish line, your “never again” becomes “maybe one day”.

And then “what’s on this month”?

It’s a beautiful thing. You’ve ticked off a major goal, you’re feeling bulletproof, it kinda makes sense to race again while the legs are still warm. You even hear stories of the elites and others backing up quickly so you pressure yourself to be at 100% as soon as humanly possible.

And therein lies the hidden perils of the post-race high.

So what happens to your body post-ultra race?

It’s a big day out. Your body works to its limits on the day and in the process, you generate inflammation in your connective tissues and burn through much of your muscle’s internal energy supply, muscle glycogen. The inflammation causes your tendons to stiffen, reducing their bounce and ability to stress and release energy – ie. the elastic or springy part of their job.

This makes your running gait less efficient and means you’ll require more muscle work to run. But your muscle glycogen has been depleted, giving your muscles less capacity and making them prone to early fatigue.

What are the consequences of returning too early?

The biggest risk is due to your loss of good running form. This causes an overload of different areas and, without the muscles in top condition to offer protection, quickly escalates to injury. Then there’s the overall fatigue, leading to poor quality training sessions and even illness.

How do you know if you’re ready?

The most obvious one is poor performance, with slower times and a higher heart rate (HR). And while it’s an obvious indicator that you’re not ready, the opposite isn’t always true – faster times can sometimes mask an incomplete recovery.
Then there’s poor performance on climbs – not necessarily time-based or measureable, it’s a gut feeling but it’s a vital one, particularly with a vertical race approaching.

Probably the most important indicator is a poor recovery after training sessions, feeling like you can’t back up well and/or suffering from excessive soreness the next day.

Lastly is general fatigue, worse after running, when you’re struggling to get up in the morning and/or getting tired early in the evening. It’s that feeling like you’re not getting a good night’s rest, no matter how long you spend in bed.

Ready for the solution?

The first simple, not negotiable step is to slow down and shorten your runs – don’t let your enthusiasm/ego/frustration outrun your physiology. We all take different amounts of time to recover post-race so don’t let someone else’s story of recovery guide your timeframes.

Next, eat well, hydrate often. This works better in conjunction with some training and will show a steady but noticeable improvement with each session.

Lastly, massage. Get a professional on the job; it’ll help you feel recovered and they can detect areas of soreness or poor recovery that you may not have been aware of.

Written by

Pete Colagiuri
Sports Physiotherapist

Pete has over 20 years experience as a Physiotherapist and specialises in running biomechanics and complex injuries. He believes that you must identify and fix the underlying cause of an injury, to recover faster, prevent recurrences and improve performance.

Pete Colagiuri - Sports Physio