Whew! You did it. Your marathon's over, and whether it was your first or fifteen, your body's likely crying out for help...and making you question your sanity. But while you were basking in the glory of post-race euphoria, we were coming up with a viable post-marathon recovery plan. Whether you're itching to run again soon, taking some time off, or sourcing a new pair of legs, don’t worry. Men’s Fitness has you covered. We spoke to veteran running coach and former Olympian John Henwood, who offered these tips for tackling the marathon aftermath.
1) Manage your pain
This ING New York City Marathon commercial sums it up perfectly:
That’s how most people feel after a decent running workout, so we understand the pain that comes with a grueling 26.2 miles. While you probably iced every ligament in your body immediately after the race, it’s important to keep up the habit throughout the week following an event. Henwood suggests doing some light static stretches and taking an ice bath followed by a warm shower. The quick change in temperature helps increase blood flow, flushing lactic acid from the body. Also don’t forget about the role that nutrition plays in recovery and pain management: "Drink lots of fluids to hydrate, which will help muscles recover," says Henwood. "And eat three meals with light snacking. Don't allow your body to go for more than four hours without food during the day."
2) Rest, but don’t become a couch potato!
We get it. You just finished a marathon; you’re the epitome of fitness. OK....maybe that's a little much, but you’re pretty darn proud of yourself right now. But remember: fitness isn’t a one-off thing. It’s a way of life, and the last thing you want to do is regress. You may feel the overwhelming urge to let go this week, but don't give in completely. "Don't overeat and get out of shape," warns Henwood. "Get into a maintenance program to stay in shape, even if it's not running itself."
3) Reset your motivation
You’ve spent the last couple of months thinking about your marathon day and night, completely consumed by conversations about splits, intervals, and personal records. Now the race is over and there's a void–and plenty of time to reflect. But you need mental recovery just as much as your body needs to physically reset. Henwood prescribes a healthy dose of rest (5-7 days) after the marathon. “Doing nothing is part of your training plan, both mentally and physically," he says. "During that time, think about the marathon you would love to run next time."
4) Pick your next challenge
You've made a full recovery, and you're itching to run again. It's time to plan and improve: "Think about how your marathon went, pick a running goal, and think about how you can change your training to race better next time," says Henwood. That might mean mixing more tempo runs, speed work, long runs, or strength training into your training routine.
For runners chasing personal records:
"If you are want to run your best marathon, no more than two marathons per year is ideal," says Henwood. "This gives you time to work on things like speed, strength, form, and flexibility. To improve your marathon time, concentrate on your performance during shorter-distance races throughout the year.
For the marathon junkies:
"If you just love running marathons to finish and don't really care about time, go for five to 15 per year. As long as you're enjoying it," says Henwood. "But don't forget about strength training; It'll help you remain injury free. Always strength train or cross train at least twice per week when prepping for a marathon."