From a performance perspective runners tend to be pretty bad at recovery and rest. The key spring marathon season has passed and many runners will now be enjoying a well earned rest and perhaps a bit more refreshment than they have taken on over recent weeks.
However I commonly see runners after a key race such as a half, or particularly a full marathon, wanting to jump straight back into training and further races. This can be fuelled by a wave of euphoria post a good performance – wanting to tick off more PBs in quick succession or because a disappointing race fuels a desire to get out and work harder.
Taking a more performance minded approach will see you perform better in 4-6 weeks time! Try some of these tips to get you back on the road and crucially give yourself time to reflect on your recent performance before you make emotionally driven decisions about future goals and training.
- Eat and drink well - You deserve to treat yourself this week BUT keep it in moderation and do ensure a good intake of protein and carbohydrate to help the muscles heal and then re-load. Focus on a really well balanced diet with red meat, white meat or fish (or nuts, tofu and pulses for veggies). Lots of good fruit and vegetables, with a broad spectrum of colours. DO NOT start a diet or calorie cutting regime this week - your body needs to heal, give it the macro and micro nutrients it needs to do this.
- Massage - If you can book in for a sports massage this week and focus on breaking down the scar tissue created through the course of your marathon you should. If you can’t get a sports massage in use a foam roller or even self-massage to find those knots and trigger points.
- Get active! - Whilst it is not necessary to run this week you might find it really helpful to include some light activity - walking, swimming or easy cycling. 30 minutes or so 3-4 times this week will help to work some of the stiffness out of your muscles - stretch after as well focusing on quads, calf, hamstrings and glutes.
Compression can help by increasing venous blood flow as can 'contrast' therapy where you alternate ice and heat packs on particularly sore muscles.
The 'post marathon blues' are a common affliction. The media coverage, the expo, the hype, the training all results in a really big build up. The marathon almost becomes your friend and a key focus for your life. However you performed to see it go so quickly leaves many of us with a feeling of being at a loss, anti-climactic and without focus. Here a few things which can help:
- Sleep - Part of this feeling is exhaustion. Treat this week like you are in taper week - get to bed early and sleep as much as you can. Good sleep hygiene - banishing electronic devices from the bedroom, avoiding caffeine and alcohol late at night and giving yourself at least 90 minutes after your main meal before you get into bed will all help get your towards that ideal 7-9 hours a night.
- Set new goals - have a think about a few options - another marathon? - maybe you'll aim to run it faster, or over a hilly course, or run abroad? Perhaps join a running club, change up your routes or run some off road or trail races? Perhaps challenge yourself over different distances - what about a summer track race, or nail those 5km and 10km PBs? Maybe it’s time to focus on your strength and conditioning so you can not only run faster, but stronger too?
- Congratulate yourself - Completing a marathon is an incredible achievement, training for a marathon is even more an incredible achievement. Look back over your training and remind yourself how far you have come, what you have learnt about yourself, how much you have raised for charity. It's easy to forget to take time to reflect and congratulate yourself.
- Give yourself time - If you don’t feel like you want to get back into running straight away then give yourself time and space. We run because we enjoy it – if you force yourself to return to structured training before you want to you will eat away at that love for just running. Be patient with yourself.
Expect to it to take about 1 day for each mile of the marathon before your body is back performing and before you can expect to feel strong in sessions or longer runs. Here are a few tips on building back into running:
- Take a week off - I would take a week off running totally, but keep active walk, swim or cycle but keep your effort light and conversational. This is not the week to be hitting heavy gym sessions!
- Week 2 you can start to build back into your running but make it a week of light, easy runs; 2-3 (r more if you are a bit more experienced) during the week at a conversational pace. For most the runs should be roughly 30-45 minutes in length, 60 maximum and up to 2 minutes a mile slower than marathon pace.
- Considering taking your first few runs off road (a flat grass route would be ideal) keeping the impact low and don't worry if they feel pretty sluggish.
- The latter half of week 2 is when you might start to include some faster work again. Reintroducing some light threshold running perhaps 3-5 blocks of 5 minutes at a controlled discomfort between 10km and half marathon pace just starts to turn the legs over again and get the engine firing. Including strides can be another great way of easing your body back into quicker running before the real work begins next week.
- By week 3 your training can start to include some structure again; building a slightly longer weekend run 75-90 minutes + entirely at a conversational pace and adding more quality sessions including interval and threshold running.
- Whilst your training volume is lower concentrate on building up a good routine of core strength and flexibility that you can maintain as your training volume increases again. Core (chest, abdominal, lower back and glute) strength can be included easily into your post marathon running training . It's a bit of an opportunity to consider how you are going to take both your running and non running training on a step in your next training cycle.
Tom Craggs is an England National Endurance Coach. He also works as a coaching consultant for Race for Life, Polar and 16 other leading charities. Tom is also an Advanced Personal Trainer working with several well-known TV and media personalities.