Post-race recovery can quickly become confusing. Why can some runners grab a finish-line beverage before heading out for a feast with fellow racers, while others struggle to keep down water after their multi-mile race? And how can some complete several Ultras in one weekend (setting personal records, nonetheless) while many first-timers and seasoned Spartans alike cramp up during their entire car or plane ride home?
These questions can seem even more complicated when, like many Spartans, you're striving to complete multiple races of varying length, obstacle count, and elevation gain within two days to earn your coveted Trifecta (a Sprint, Super, and Beast).
But it's only a daunting undertaking if you're unprepared. To uncover the most effective recovery tactics for a fast turnaround between races, we asked members of the Trifecta Tribe — from Spartan SGX Coaches and certified personal trainers to an active-duty U.S. Army infantry officer and Age Group Trifecta World Champion — how they stay consistently race-ready and injury-free, especially on 20-mile-plus weekends.
How to Recover Quickly Between Races
Make Sure You're Physically Prepared
If you completed your first Spartan race without proper endurance and obstacle training, you likely spent the following few days stumbling around, plagued by soreness. When aiming to run multiple races in one weekend, that multi-day (or even weeklong) recovery period will need to be reduced to just a few hours. The first step to effectively accomplishing this, according to April Sherman — a Spartan SGX Coach and certified personal trainer who has completed over 40 Spartan races — is to train adequately and show up to your events physically prepared.
Credit: April Sherman
"You will recover quicker if you have truly trained for your races," Sherman says. "Stiffness and soreness come from your muscles not being trained for this type of physical exertion. If you have really trained, you shouldn’t be as stiff and sore after a race."
Cole DeRosa, an active-duty U.S. Army infantry officer and the 2019 Spartan Age Group Trifecta World Champion, did his first Spartan race in 2015 between deployments. Since then, he's strived to run 36 races a year between Age Group and Elite, totaling 123 (with 89 podium finishes) to date. With such an extensive race resume, DeRosa has had years to develop a tailored training plan that works best for him.
"Being a competitive Spartan athlete requires a great mix of endurance training to support races reaching over two hours, and strength and functional training to move my body more efficiently through obstacles," he says.
However, he believes that a key component of obstacle course race training is listening to your body and knowing when to make minor modifications to your regimen, especially if you begin to experience heavy fatigue or minor injuries. It's crucial to address any physical ailments before your race weekend, and to choose a race training plan that's appropriate for your own goals.
Get Your Nutrition and Hydration in Check
In addition to priming your muscles, heart, and lungs pre-race, you'll need to train your digestive system to take in necessary fuel and use it in the most efficient way, especially as you increase your race distance from Sprint to Beast. And like your training plan, Sherman says, you won't want to wait until race weekend to figure out which fuel sources your body requires and craves pre-, intra-, or post-race.
"Train how you race, and that includes your nutrition," Sherman says. "Don’t start trying to figure out which foods to fuel with two weeks before a race — it's already too late. Getting the nutrition down is something you should have been doing throughout your whole training."
While there are certainly no magic, one-size-fits-all nutrition plans that specifically support back-to-back races, our Trifecta Tribe members have each developed some tried-and-true methods to optimize their performance all weekend long.
Credit: Cole DeRosa
"Implementing a consistent nutrition regimen will help you get the most from your training by ensuring that you have the foundational nutrients to support tough training days and optimize your recovery," DeRosa says. "These are important building blocks to racing and performing better."
Olga Torres, a software developer, Spartan SGX Coach, and AFAA group fitness instructor, ran her first OCR race in 2017, nine months postpartum after giving birth to her first daughter. To date, she has completed more than 30 races, relying on intuitive eating — eating when she's hungry, not when she's bored — to fuel her pre-race training.
"During the week leading up to a race, I gradually increase my carbs consumption — whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — and the day before I eat a bigger lunch but a lighter dinner so the food has time to digest before the race," she says. "I start my day with a banana, and about an hour before the race I eat a good-carb snack. I love Honey Stinger waffles."
Both Sherman and DeRosa favor a combination of fast-digesting and complex carbs the morning of a race (or races). Sherman goes with a Greek yogurt and a banana, and DeRosa opts for oatmeal, an apple with all-natural nut butter, and — no surprise here — a banana 90 minutes to two hours before his first race.
"I start with the oatmeal because it's high in complex carbohydrates, is a good source of protein, and has a low glycemic index, which provides a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream but takes the longest to digest," he says.
Credit: Cole DeRosa
"The banana is remarkably effective at supplying easily-absorbed carbs and maintaining endurance performance," he says. "The apple has over 20 grams of high-performing carbohydrates, and the nut butter rounds out my fueling needs by providing an excellent source of nutrient-dense calories and helping with satiety."
And, of course, consistent hydration is key in the days leading up to a race weekend, as well as the morning of.
"No matter how much hydration you take during the race, you will be in a deficit," DeRosa says. "This will not only affect race-day performance, but also the recovery process needed to get you as fresh as possible to the start line on the second day of racing. Like nutrition, hydration must be consistent well before you toe the line."
During and Between Races
Depending on the length of the day's races (from 5K to 21K), your intra-race fueling will differ. As a general rule, Trifecta Tribe members rely more heavily on fuel intake for longer and more mountainous races than they do for relatively flat Sprints or Supers.
"If I have a shorter, flat Super race on Saturday and a Sprint on Sunday, I may remove the oatmeal and add a second apple with nut butter," DeRosa says.
The same rule applies for fueling throughout the race itself, with fast-digesting carbs reigning supreme once again.
Credit: Olga Torres
"I use Honey Stinger gels and waffles about every 4-5 miles during longer races," Torres says.
The Spartan SGX Coach also recommends drinking water consistently — she wears a hydration vest — and chewing several electrolyte salt tablets to combat dehydration during every race, especially on hot, multi-race days.
After each race, DeRosa and Torres both grab a cold can of FitAid at the finish line.
"Planning to have all of the required post-race nutrients and hydration needs at the end of that first race is key to jump-starting the recovery process and preparing my body for the next day’s race," DeRosa says. "FitAid quickly replenishes what you lost while racing with essential nutrients for your mind and body, like branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). This supports muscle protein synthesis, helping to minimize muscle damage."
And while Torres is the type of racer who can stomach additional fuel after a long effort out on the course — she refuels with carb- and protein-packed foods to replenish energy and repair muscle as soon as possible — Sherman experiences moderate appetite suppression directly after her races, which is completely normal.
Credit: Olga Torres
"Depending on the length of the race, I usually don’t have that big of an appetite after something like a Beast," she says. "When my appetite comes back, I usually head for a turkey burger and fries. Plus, I make sure to drink plenty of water."
Rest and Recover Strong
On Trifecta or multi-race weekends, you'll likely have between a few hours and a day between races. And aside from what you put in your body, how you move (or don't move) your body during that window will make or break your recovery game.
As soon as he crosses the finish line, DeRosa will always do some sort of light stretching, talking with fellow racers while doing so.
"Stretching is often overlooked, and that comes at a price," he says. "After the race, your muscles are warm and more elastic. Racing can shorten your muscles, and skipping your post-race stretch can decrease your mobility over time."
Making this a habit, he says, can also help identify areas of your body that may require attention from a foam roller, a tool that both Torres and Sherman recommend between races.
For a more dynamic stretch, cool down, or warm-up, all three athletes encourage taking a light jog or recovery run — just 15 minutes will do — around the Spartan festival area to keep your body moving and flush out waste products. Afterward, DeRosa says, be sure to get your race shoes off to lessen the pressure of your feet swelling and increase your blood flow.
Credit: Cole DeRosa
If you have a long commute home from your race weekend, Torres encourages getting out of your car, train, or plane seat every two to three hours to stretch, all while hydrating consistently. And finally, be sure to get 7-8 quality hours of sleep upon arriving home to help recover and repair muscles and regenerate cells.
"Racing multiple times in a weekend requires deliberate planning and conscious effort," DeRosa says. "Whether you're racing in a competitive or an Open heat, having a solid recovery and nutrition plan will get you to the start line and through the finish line at your most optimal state."