"Returning to Running
Over the years, I have learned to give my body the time it needs to fully recover from a long marathon preparation rather than to rush back into training. The need for recovery is usually underestimated. Runners often feel they have to continue to train right away to achieve another good result. And some of us simply want to get back into the running routine we love. But, to the contrary, by giving your body a chance to fully and deeply recover, you can be on the road to unexpectedly fast results in your upcoming events. Another important part of recovering is to give your mind a break from the focus of training, so when your body is indeed ready to train hard again, you’ll have the mental energy you need, too.
Once you get past the soreness and stiffness, continue to keep your running mileage low. Recovery is still your main priority. This is a good time to mix running with cross-training, like swimming, deep-water running, or short bike rides, so that you stay active while allowing your energy level to return to normal. On your running days, whenever you can, try to stay on surfaces which lessen the pounding on your tired legs (while this is always good advice, it is even more so now.) Try to run your favorite routes so your workouts are as enjoyable as possible. Even if you start feeling great, try to restrain yourself and keep your runs short and at a low to medium intensity; there will be lots of time for hard training later.
In the first two weeks after the marathon, it is best to get as much ‘good’ sleep as possible. You will probably be returning to work and your normal life, even though you may be feeling a little low on energy, so if you can get a lot of sleep during this time, you will speed up your recovery.
As you feel more and more rested you may want to gradually return to your normal running routine. During that time, it is a good idea to focus on adding quality before quantity. To get a little speed back into your legs, start with a few strides. After one or more of your easy runs, when your muscles are still warmed up, choose a 60 to 100-meter course. Start the first 15 meters or so easy, then accelerate to 80-85% of your peak running speed for the next segment and stay on this comfortable pace, then accelerate again for the next 15 meters up to 95-100%, and finally decelerate. Repeat this stride 5 times—for stronger runners, up to 10 times. Strides are fun and not too intense. They also will help you regain your fast-running form that might have deteriorated a bit during all those months of marathon training.
If you feel fine after a few sessions of strides, adding a fartlek workout (a short interval training) once a week on one of your favorite loops, can be a great idea. Please try not to quantify your effort—just get used to running faster again. Around this time you could start adding moderate-but-still-not-hard runs of 40 or 45 minutes. Assuming you still are progressing and don’t have lingering soreness or low energy five weeks after the marathon, you could start to add longer runs and resume track—or other—workouts where you can compare your efforts, such as a tempo run on one of your regular courses.
You also will have a better chance to recover faster by continuing to eat a well-balanced diet: one with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and not too many fatty foods. Depending on your efforts, you will have replaced what you burned in the marathon by the second or third day after the race. Smaller, more frequent meals of healthful food, rather than a huge nightly meal, will leave you feeling better, and you will be less likely to put on unwanted weight—something important to consider now that you’re not burning up calories like you were during your marathon training.
The Post-Marathon Blues
You have accomplished such an extraordinary feat—running a marathon. Runners, like new moms, understand that soon after the big event that has preoccupied you for months, it is easy to succumb to low-grade depression. That is true even if everything went great—just as the baby is healthy, you ran a personal best in the marathon. This is understandable. For such a long time, you were focused on the big day. You trained your body to go 26.2 miles—and how you structured your life was largely determined by preparing for just a few hours in time that has now passed. So after the day has come and gone, it’s natural to think, “Is that all there is? What now?”
The first step in overcoming post-marathon blues, if you have them at all, is to acknowledge your feelings, which sport psychologists say are completely normal. It’s often a good idea to start out by planning activities with friends and loved ones. Even if you don’t feel like doing anything and have to drag yourself out the door, just go! Engaging in these activities will help you to move away, at least temporarily, from your depressed feelings.
If you are disappointed in part because your marathon didn’t go well, please try to follow all the tips above on diet and exercise so you will recover as quickly as possible. And again, try to acknowledge your feelings. It’s normal to not be happy when you fall short of an important goal. Acknowledging that disappointment, rather than fighting it, will help you let go of it more easily. At the same time, try not to let your unhappiness overwhelm you. Try to use it to get motivated again. Research shows that a positive attitude toward a tough experience actually speeds your physical recovery. By regrouping and analyzing what went wrong in the marathon, such as going out too fast, or having not followed your pre-race nutrition, you will find out what changes to make in your training and racing routines so you can avoid the same problem in the future.
While reviewing your performance, it is helpful to be honest about whether your goal was realistic and in line with your training. Some marathoners set time goals that are based more on nice, round numbers—“I would like to run 8:00 per mile or faster,” or “I hope to be able to break 3:00”—than an honest assessment based on their actual preparation.
Even if your goal was realistic, were there factors on race day that prevented you from reaching it? Maybe it was too warm, too cold, or too windy. Maybe you had to run by yourself for most of the race. Or maybe you overestimated how quickly you really had recovered from a minor or major injury. You might still have run a superb marathon but missed your goal time by only a couple of minutes because of conditions out on the course. Why beat yourself up over things you can’t control? You still completed a marathon—and that is a marvelous achievement!
Once you think you know why you missed your goal, carry out the same evaluation several days later. By this time, you might not be as emotional and you might have a clearer view of exactly what happened. Maybe by this point, you even will be able to smile or laugh about the experience, especially if it were something as simple as going out too fast in the first few miles.
If you are feeling a little emptiness even though your marathon went well, it might be helpful to look for a new goal. (For some thoughts about choosing what I call “good goals,” see the article “Make Your Wishes Come True: How to Set and Achieve Your Goals.”) It does not have to be monumental—it could be something fun like taking part in a track meet. You also could now turn your focus to shorter races and use the endurance you built during marathon training as a springboard to success at 5Ks or 10Ks. I often tried to recover quickly from spring marathons so I could make use of my hard-earned fitness and endurance during track season. For example, a speedy recovery after running the Boston Marathon one year helped me to set a 10,000-meter personal best on the track only six weeks later.
One of the best ways to get through this post-marathon period is to help a friend meet a goal. Become that person’s supporter—maybe running with her (or him!), or providing her with fluids on a long run, or keeping her company during a track workout. Helping your friend will help you regain your confidence in yourself.
Finally, it will be helpful to get re-involved with other areas of your life. You probably sacrificed a lot during your marathon preparation. Now you can spend more time again with your family or participate in other outside activities you couldn’t enjoy while you were training for the marathon. It is time to return to the people and things you love too. I hope you will be glad you did when you once again catch the marathon bug and start serious training all over again!
Good luck for a speedy recovery! I wish you many successful new goals in running and in life!"