So you’ve just trained for and completed a marathon, what do you do next? Whether you set a PB, it was a mediocre performance or even if you crashed and burned half way around; however you did in the marathon, the post marathon blues will soon kick in as the realisation that up to 6 months of training has come to an end. Be smart and take it slowly when considering putting the shoes back on:
Recovering from a marathon will take a minimum of 2 weeks – even when the body has finished aching:
- Immune function is reduced and susceptibility to flu increased – meaning it is important to concentrate on sleep and good nutrition
- Muscle strength is reduced with cellular inflammation persisting well after you can feel the effects.
- Muscle memory and neural activity is compromised meaning fast running and reactions times are more difficult for at least 2 weeks (thus meaning a higher risk of injury)
Whilst some might disagree with these tips (which is fine!), they are purely based on my own experiences and those of my patients rather than research and evidence.
1-3 days – Recovery facilitation
The main goal in this period is to do no further harm, and start the early stages of the recovery process.
– Eat a diet high in nutrients and wash down with lots of water.
– Sleep, LOTS.
– Try not to stretch too much in this period, as static stretching can promote muscle soreness at this stage.
– Ice bath (see previous article on ice baths)
4-7 days – Active recovery
It is vitally important to not run for the first week following a marathon. This may have been your longest period without running for 6 months! From day 4 onwards consider doing 15-30mins of very easy exercise such as cycling or swimming, or if you don’t have access to a bike or pool then go for a walk. At this point you can start gentle stretching and could consider a sports massage / foam rolling (see previous article)
7-14days – Test run
Try a trial run of 20-30mins– this should also be at a pace that you would normally feel confident would be easy, and then analyse how you feel.
- Did anything hurt?
- How do you feel energy wise?
- What muscles are particularly sore or tight?
During this period run a maximum of every other day, and do no more than 30 mins. The goal is for it to start feeling easy again, not to build fitness. On the days off ideally aim for total rest from other exercise but continue with foam rolling and stretching.
2 weeks plus
The goal here is to still get back into some scheduled training, not to immediately start pushing distance and speed. It is vitally important to start building the mileage slowly and gradually. Again for up to 1 month after the marathon, ensure to include more recovery days than previously to allow the fatigue to reduce. Listen to your body and if in doubt – give it a rest.
Already signed up for another marathon?
Whether you’ve already signed up for another marathon or just want to continue running, it’s important to think about what you’re after from your running. We’ve discussed the impact that marathon training will have had on your body, but what about your family? Job? Social life? Other sporting commitments?
If you’re going to continue running
Evaluate your goals – ensure to leave it at least 2 weeks.
Now how do you feel about your performance in marathon? This is the time to sit down and reflect on how the training went.
- Did you under train?
- Did you over train?
- Did you eat and drink properly prior to the race
- How was your race nutrition?
- Did all those niggles catch up with you?
- Were your goals unrealistic? Did your pace match your goals?
It all depends on the individual and on the race, but have a look at your split times, and see if you paced yourself correctly?
Set new goals – what distance event are you going to run? Are you aiming to get faster if it’s a similar course? Are you planning on a similar time, but the course is going to be a lot hillier? It is important to have these goals to help your plan your next training cycle.
Fix those niggles – these may not have stopped you first time around, but may get worse if you train for another event, or may slow you down performance wise. Either way, they are unlikely to heal themselves.
Going to give serious running a break for a while
This is certainly nothing to scoff at. Assuming tiddlywinks is not your usual sporting passion, you will maintain a lot of your marathon fitness by just doing 1 run a week. Give your body a rest and when you fall in love with running again, you’ll be in a better place having already completed a marathon.
To conclude – take it slow. It will take longer to recover from your marathon than you think. If continuing running: recover well; evaluate your performance; set new goals; and fix those niggles. It’s also fine to not run for a few months and go back to your previous hobbies!
The above advice is based on personal experience gained as a physiotherapist working with many runners and also being a keen runner myself. It is not the only way to recover, but you won’t go far wrong 🙂
By Kevin TuckerPhysiotherapist and Academy Tutor