After a hard race, a period of recovery follows. I enjoy this period as much as all the other phases in training. This is a time when I look back at my accomplishment, and I get a nice warm feeling of satisfaction. I also get to eat a little more to replenish glycogen, and to seat on my comfy couch (while watching some mindless TV show) to rest my legs so that they can get stronger. And the nicest part is, I feel 100% guilt-free for eating and seating.
I would say that for most runners/bikers/tri-athletes, the recovery phase is one of the top reasons why they like to train and race. You get to indulge, and you know you deserve it. For me, it is chunky cookies (the ones with walnuts, chocolate chips, and oatmeal), for Eric, it is ice-cream (these days, he only eats Rice Dream, but that's a whole different story) and beer.
Some people ask us for how long they should recover, and the answer is 'it depends.' It depends on your body, on the effort level at which you trained and raced, and on your mind. Sometimes, not only our body gets tired, but our mind can also get burned out. Some running magazines recommend one day per racing-mile (that would be almost a month for a marathon, 2 weeks for a half-marathon, etc). I find this to be too much recovery for me, so the bottom line is, you will have to experiment a little to find out what works for you. With time, you will learn how long it takes you to get the itch again.
We do recommend that you go for a couple of easy workouts on the days following your race (even if it is a 20 minute jog), as this will help your muscles to flush out the waste that accumulated during the race. I highly recommend a gentle Yoga class to elongate your muscles so that they don't get tight and short.
Your main worry when recovering, should be r e c o v e r i n g. Many runners, including myself, are too used to following self-imposed training schedules, and make their workout a must-do item in their daily to-do list. If they don't have this schedule, they can feel anxious and get moody. A cure for this is to make a recovery schedule, with 2-4 workouts per week, and depending on a number of variables, the workouts should be between 20-60 minutes, and at a SLOW pace.
Another thing I have tried lately, is to forget about a schedule when recovering, and practice my body-listening skills. For one to three weeks, I give myself 'permission' to ignore a schedule, and just listen to my body, and do what it asks me to do.
For example, this week, I had planned to run on Thursday after work. But after driving home, there really was no desire in me to run. My body was feeling worn out, and I felt like making some tea and reading my novel instead of putting my shoes on to run around the neighborhood. It can be difficult to listen to your body and do what it tells you to do, specially if you are like me (type A all the way). Even when I was reading, I kept looking at my watch, and thinking, 'maybe just 10 minutes...'. But I told myself: 'Live in the moment', and I really gave myself to the book (BTW. I really recommend 'Out Stealing Horses'). Time flew, and I had a great time. And the great thing is, next morning, I woke up at 6:00 AM without the help of the alarm clock, and there was nothing I wanted more than getting up to run in the dim fall light. This run made my day.
So you see, when you listen to your body, you will not stop running (or doing your sport of preference). That's what I thought would happen if I threw my schedule away. I thought that I would not 'get it done.' But our bodies get so used to moving, that they will make it very clear to us when it is time to get out for another dose of healthy stimulation. I am serious, give it a try! You don't loose anything, if it doesn't work, you can go back to your schedule. For me, the next step is to try to run more like this, even when I am not recovering.
OK, so it is time for me to go and do some more recovering. I already had a wonderful breakfast with our Sunday morning group run, but there was a cookie at the bakery that has my name written all over it.