May 11, 2012

Marathon recovery

After 16 marathons (and a few ultras), my recovery strategy has slowly but surely evolved into a simple one; I don't run for the first week after the race, but stay active with daily walks (the dog guarantees those) and get plenty of rest. Plenty of food, a glass of red wine or a beer are part of the post-race week too.

My legs have felt amazingly good after Sunday's 3:00:29 effort at the Vancouver marathon. Aside from some tightness in the hamstrings in the first couple of days, all was well. Funny, given the fact that I could barely make it down the stairs for a couple of days after the Sunshine Coast April Fool's half marathon a month earlier.

Even though my legs are fine, I am resisting the temptation to go for a run. What's helping is that I have been very tired. That is hardly surprising, yet another good reason to take it very easy.

"The day after the race is usually characterized by varying degrees of mental and physical fatigue and, in some, mild depression. Typically, your legs will be stiff on account of the muscle damage, and anything except sleeping will seem to sap all your available energy," writes Tim Noakes in Lore of Running.

"Little can be done about these feelings, except to accept them as normal, to sleep more, and to avoid excessive physical and mental activity."

After this marathon my legs feel pretty loose and limber but the level of fatigue, especially mentally, is very high. Everyone is different and of course a lot depends on how you raced your marathon.

I have found that my body generally doesn't enjoy running in the first week after a race of 42.2K (or more), so I don't. I prefer to err on the side of caution. Daily walks help loosen my muscles without jarring or adding any extra fatigue.

"Most marathoners don't take enough time for recovery. I must admit I was among the worst of them," Alberto Salazar writes in his Guide to Road Racing. "If you gave the race everything you had (or nearly everything), marathon recovery should be a 6-week process. Don't run at all for 2 weeks."

Once you resume running in the third week, Salazar recommends you begin at a third of the mileage you were doing before your marathon buildup, and then take another three weeks to slowly increase to "your original baseline volume."

No speedwork in those first six weeks and "don't even race a 5K until a couple of weeks after that," according to Salazar.
At this point, I plan to slowly ease back into training over the following 4 to 5 weeks as per Advanced Marathoning. While their five-week recovery schedule allows for three easy runs in the first week (totalling 26K for someone who has been running 100-140K weeks in their marathon preparations), the authors also stress caution.

"You have little to gain by rushing back into training, and your risk of injury is exceptionally high at this point, owing to the reduced resiliency of your muscles and connective tissue after the marathon," Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas write. "If ever there was a time to lose your marathoner's mindset, the week after your goal race is it."

Advanced Marathoning recommends keeping your heart rate below 76 percent of the max during all runs in the first few post-marathon weeks, and I plan to heed their advice as it has worked extremely well for me. I'll try some easy runs next week, see how that feels and take it from there.

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