This past weekend, I ran my 2nd full marathon. This marathon was almost a year in the making – from the time I set a goal to run a sub-5 full, to creating a training plan, executing said plan, and finishing my marathon with a nearly 35 minute PR and 4:52 finishing time. To say I had a very good October 19th would be an understatement. If you’d like to read the race report, you can find it here.
But, marathon training doesn’t end when you cross the finish line – at least not if you want to be able to move the next day. What you do in the hours and days following your marathon (or really any distance event, although it seems like crossing that 20 mile barrier is what really tears our bodies apart) are essential to making sure you make it to your next starting line healthy and ready to take on that next challenge.
I’m not sure where I first heard the term “Mile 27” (Hal Higdon, most likely) but wherever the term came from, the concept makes sense. Mile 27 marathon recovery is the next step. WOOHOO!!! YOU DID IT!!! Congratulations – you are a marathoner! So, what should you do now in this final mile?
Immediately post race – For the love of all that’s holy, DO NOT STOP MOVING! Keep walking around while you pick up your well-earned banana and bagel. Grab some chocolate milk and water, or if you can tolerate it, a sports drink such as Gatorade. Go give your cheering squad a hug or hug a random stranger! If they are handing out those awesome Mylar space blankets, take one and wrap it around yourself (shiny side IN) because your body temperature is about to start dropping rapidly. As soon as your body can tolerate food, eat something like that banana you grabbed, a bagel or some yogurt. Change into some warm, dry clothes and comfy shoes. (I made the mistake of keeping my running shoes on for the drive home and ouch – I had to unlace them to drive.) Get off your feet for an hour or two and then eat some more. Remember, you probably burned somewhere in the vicinity of 2500-3000 calories. You don’t have to replace all of it, but you need to eat something real. Keep pushing the water the rest of the day. You want to flush as much of that lactic acid out of your body as possible and make sure you are rehydrated. Feel free to have a celebratory beer, but don’t overdo it. If you thought a hangover was bad, try a hangover with the addition of post-marathon soreness and dehydration. Have one and then just say no.
“Zero Week” as Hal Higdon calls it – In a nutshell, you should do nothing the day after the marathon other than keeping moving, hydrating and re-fueling. You probably didn’t eat a ton on marathon day, so don’t be shocked if you wake up with a serious case of the rungries. The next 2-3 days should still be without running, but if you feel up to it (this is when you should REALLY be listening to your body) go for a walk, an easy swim or bike ride but not even at a level of “cross training”. Seriously, you’re supposed to be resting! Personally, I always recover from long runs faster if I do something the next day, even if it’s just a walk. Get a massage if that’s something that has helped you recover in the past. About 4 days post-marathon, if you are sure you have no injuries or major aches, you can test the waters with a very easy, short (think pizza delivery of 30 minutes or less) run. Leave the Garmin at home. Trust me.
You were probably so incredibly tired the night after your marathon that you were able to quickly fall asleep, but staying asleep may have been an issue. Spend the next week trying to get back into a regular sleep pattern. Make sure you are still hydrating well each day and stay away from sick people if you can. There are a few studies out there that show runners are more susceptible to colds and flu in the days immediately following a marathon because your immune system takes a serious hit.
The next few weeks – For most mere mortals like ourselves, it takes two to three weeks to fully recover from running 26.2 miles. Some experts recommend taking one day off of hard training for each mile raced – so almost 3 weeks. This doesn’t mean you can’t workout, but keep the heavy duty stuff for next month. Keep up the crosstraining and strength training (upper body and abs for now – save the heavy leg work for next month as well). If you are sure you haven’t suffered any injuries and your major soreness is gone, you can probably do a few 2-3 mile runs in weeks two and three. But again, LISTEN to your body. You don’t want to spend the next two months trying to figure out why you are back at ground zero because you didn’t respect the distance and let yourself fully recover.
Depending where you are in your fitness level, Hal Higdon has some nice, 4-week long post-marathon training programs for when you are ready to get back into regular running. In the meantime, bask in the glow of your post-marathon high and take your medal out to lunch 🙂
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