As 2015 comes to a close, I congratulate all you runners out there who have ran your heart out in your marathons. You've pushed yourself beyond your limits, achieved goals you thought were out of reach. You've done quite awesome. After logging all of those miles in your most recent marathon , there's no doubt you have a good aerobic base, so what happens now? Do you start your next marathon training asap, dial down the distance and race shorter distances such as a 5k, or perhaps shut things down, take a lengthy period of time and let your body recover?
Much of the Elite marathoners take about a day off of running for every mile in the marathon, which comes to 21 to 28 days of rest or minimal running. It's a conservative approach that helps to prevent injuries associated with over training, as well as give the mind time to rest and avoid burning out. However, applying this approach may lead you to lose your fitness, leaving to start all over again to build your running body back up.
Much of it is dependent upon how your body feels after the marathon. It's quite common to feel a perpetual soreness, jello-like legs, and lethargy. Until symptoms such as these, have dissolved, it's wise not to do another marathon so soon.
What did I do?
After the Morgan Hill Marathon on October 25, 2015, I had the Revel City Marathon just 13 days later. No coach or experienced marathoner I talked with, recommended I attempt such a thing. They said it was likely I'd get injured, and that it was crazy to even conceive of the idea. I didn't have any data to support my case. I simply had the belief that I could do it it. Not only did I believe I would do it, but I would run my fastest marathon to date and qualify not for one, but two of the Elite marathons (Boston & New York City), within a single year.
I listened to my body closely. The next three days I did 1 to 2 hour recovery rides on my cycling trainer indoors. My reasoning was that I wanted to keep up my cardio while allowing my connective tissue (bones, ligaments, tendons, etc.) to heal. I still had my fitness from the Morgan Hill Marathon, there was no need to do any hard training to gain more. In my opinion, if I recovered right, I'd gain more for the Revel City Marathon. After the 3 days of recovery rides, I began implementing recovery runs of 6 to 8 miles. If I felt like it wasn't good to run, I hopped on my cycling trainer for an indoor recovery session. After 13 days, I lined up at the starting line of the Revel City Marathon, feeling fresh, and ran a 02:49:15, setting a new PR and qualifying for the Elite NYC Marathon over 3 minutes faster than required (02:53:00).
What should you do?
The first thing you have to consider is that there is no absolute formula for recovery. Each of us are unique in how our bodies recover. The most important thing you can do is listen to your body, and listen closely. Remember that running provides the workload, but it's rest and recovery that allows your muscles to repair and be enhanced by the workload. There's no point in training hard if it's not going to benefit your running. Perhaps start by taking a day of rest. Heck, you gave your best, you've earned it. Try cross training such as swimming or cycling, doing so with light exertion. These activities will utilize the same aerobic system you use for running, without impact. If you feel that your body is ready for running, start out with a low mileage and build from there. Here's an example of a 4 wk recovery training plan from renowned running coach Hal Higdon (www.halhigdon.com). The "race" on Sun of Week 4 to help you with motivation. After the "race", feel free to pick your next training or racing goal
You know yourself better than anyone. As long as you listen to your body, you'll be able to know how to recover and be ready for your next marathon.
Be well and run on!