Perfect your post marathon recovery

Running a marathon is a big deal! But perfecting your post-race recovery is also essential for your health and wellbeing. Expert running coach Tom Craggs from RunningWithUs offers his expert advice on recovering the right way.

Perfect your post marathon recovery

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 such as 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 and stand you in better stead in the future.

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.

For healthy dinner inspiration, head over to our recipe section

Book a massage

Schedule a sports massage this week and get your masseuse to focus on breaking down the scar tissue created through the course of your marathon. If you can't book a sports massage use a foam roller or even self-massage to find those knots and trigger points - if you are not sure on this drop me a line @ThomasCraggs!

Get active!

While 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.

Beat the post marathon blues

Struggling with the blues after a big race is 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: After a big race it is normal to feel exhausted. Treat this week like you are in taper week - get to bed early and sleep as much as you can.
  • 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.

Plan your recovery

Expect to it to take about one day for each mile of the marathon before your body is back performing and you can expect to feel strong in sessions or longer runs. Here are a few tips on easing back into running:

  • Week 1: 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 during the week at a conversational pace. The runs should be roughly 30-45 minutes in length, 60 maximum and up to 2 minutes a mile slower than marathon pace. The weekend of week 2 is when you might start to include some faster work again. I would recommend a tempo run of about 40 minutes – 10 minutes easy to warm up, 15-20 minutes at half marathon pace or a controlled discomfort, and the remainder of the time to ease down into a conversational pace again followed by 15-20 minutes of stretching.
  • Week 3: By week 3 your training can start to include some structure again; building a slightly longer weekend run 75-80 minutes entirely at a conversational pace and adding more quality sessions including interval and threshold running. While 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.

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