It’s at this time of the year that marathon recovery, not marathon training, starts to take center stage. The best recovery is one that optimizes your musculoskeletal recovery yet also maintains your conditioning. You’ve built superior fitness before the marathon and you don’t want to lose all of it and then have to start from scratch.
Research indicates that the muscle damage from running a marathon can last up to two weeks. The research also indicates that soreness (or the lack thereof) is not a good indicator of muscular healing. In other words, just because you aren’t sore anymore doesn’t mean that you are fully healed. This is the danger for marathon runners: post-marathon muscular soreness fades after a few days but submicroscopic damage within the muscle cells remains. If you return to full training too soon–running more and faster than the tissues are ready for–you risk delaying full recovery and the chance to get ready for your next goal.
The solution, it appears, is to recognize (and accept) that the muscles will take a while to heal and to be prepared to take it easy for the first couple of weeks (even longer if you’re particularly sore after your marathon). While the research isn’t very promising when it comes to things to do to relieve soreness and aid healing, a couple of concepts appear to help. First, providing gentle blood flow to the area helps bring healing nutrients into the muscles and also helps to remove waste products and damaged tissue. Walking and gentle massage can help, particularly in the first few days after a marathon. Once muscle soreness has significantly reduced (usually two to four days after the race), light jogging can commence. The recovery program I created forces a runner to let muscles fully heal but also provides some light jogging to aid blood flow and “feed the need” that we all have for our daily runs. Just be mindful to run very slowly.
No runner wants to get super fit and then lose that during the recovery process. But since you must reduce your training load following your marathon, it can be tricky as to how much and how soon to insert running into your post-marathon training.
The bad news is that no matter what you do, you will lose race sharpness. But that’s OK because your next big race is probably several months away. The good news is that most research indicates that as long as there is an aerobic stimulus once every two to three days, aerobic fitness will be maintained. In this recovery plan, you run at least once every other day (except for the first two days after the marathon) to minimize any loss of base fitness.
Many runners liken recovery training to a “reverse taper” without the fast workouts. Easy running is gradually increased over the weeks post-race. By the fourth week, your normal level of training is approached.
Recovery time is also the best chance to pay back your support system for the help provided during your build-up to and participation in the marathon. Use this time to help others with goals, whether running-related or not, and spend more time with family and friends.
Also use this opportunity to celebrate your success and recharge your systems. Determine what went right in training and in the race and what you would fix. If done correctly, you can come out of this period fully healed and ready to take your marathon fitness into the next training phase.
My Marathon Recovery plan is loaded in the McMillan Run Team library of training plans. Click here to sign up for a FREE 14-day Trial of Run Team and you can load the Marathon Recovery plan. Use it for the free two-week period to optimize your recovery right after your race and if you like how it’s going, you can remain in Run Team and I’ll help you plan the training for your next big goal.
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