You just ran a marathon! Awesome. You trained for the last 2-4 months to run 26.2 miles and now that race day is behind you, what do you do?
You’re fit from all that training, do you jump back into running and find another race? Do you take time off and recover? Never run another step again?
As a coach, I recommend a combination of all three of those ideas – take some time to rest and get away from running, and if you feel like it, do a bit of running.
My best advice is this: do what you feel your body needs. Everyone recovers differently and while some people need a year to recover, some may just need a weekend off.
Here are my tips to determine what stage of the post-marathon training slide you might be on.
Not So Good
It did not go how you expected. The wheels fell off and you barely made it to the finish line. Hey, you finished, but that’s not all. You’re sore, tired, rejected or maybe even worse: injured.
What to do: Take time completely off. No running, no exercising, NOTHING. Do this until the injury heals, you’re not tired or run down and you finish coming out of the hole you’re in. This could take anywhere from 1 week to 2+ months.
It wasn’t a bad day, but it wasn’t the massive PR you thought you deserved. Were the conditions poor that slowed down your time or did something go wrong mid-race? You physically feel fine, but mentally, you’re shot.
What to do: Take a week off from running. Let the physical pains subside and work through the race to see what went wrong. Was it something simple or something major? Once you feel like you’ve put the race behind you and you feel like you’re completely out of shape, that’s when you start getting back to exercising – maybe a handful of runs (easy and relaxed) and add in a few days of light cross training (cardio-based, like swimming, biking, or the elliptical). This should happen start 2+ weeks after the marathon.
There’s no real way to say it, but marathons are supposed to be hard – both mentally and physically. However, let’s say you are superhuman and recover very fast or this wasn’t your peak race. Some people, despite science and wisdom, like to race marathons often. I don’t subscribe to that theory, but some people do – and so if your body is recovered, then by all means, try, try again.
What to do: Take at least 3 days off of running. If you truly feel amazing and completely recovered, then ease back into training. At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone else. If you still feel “out of it”, take a few more days of easy running or cross training to get out of the hole.
It’s been months and you still don’t feel like running?
Not to worry. A marathon is a test of every strand and fiber of your body. If you aren’t recovering, you may want to seek extra help. Determining why you don’t feel good can go a long way to fixing the problem as there could be many different issues at hand.
When in doubt, post-marathon training should cease, a break should ensue where you do non-running activities, including, but not limited to sleeping, catching up with friends, doing non-running related activities, and most importantly, having as much fun as possible. When you feel you’ve fully recovered, you should begin training at square one: building a base.
Still unsure what to do? Reach out to a coach or person you trust to discuss your specific case. For more stories about marathon training and racing, check out these articles: Consistent Training = Big Performances, post-marathon syndrome, getting back into shape.
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I am a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!