The post marathon recovery and return to training period can be as confusing as the build up to the race itself.

You have successfully navigated your way through the marathon but now you are wondering what you should be doing to recover. You are asking yourself if you should be getting back in to training to maximise all the fitness gained from the marathon training. Maybe someone told you that you will lose all that good training if you take long rest now.

So, what should you be doing now that the marathon is behind you?

The quick and easy answer is resting. We understand that motivated runners don’t want to hear that, but it is the right thing to do so let us say it again. Now that you have completed your marathon you need to rest, a lot.

Having worked with marathon runners from the very most elite level (Abel Kirui in his Iten training camp, who was 4th in London Marathon this past weekend, for example) right through the spectrum of domestic elite runners, club runners and recreational runners, I know full well that the over whelming majority of athletes are reluctant to take significant periods of rest, even after something as taxing as a marathon.

Abel Kirui training in the gym with the author, KE founder Gavin

We suggest a minimum of 10 days with absolutely no running and extending your post marathon break to two weeks is the better option.

You have done something truly remarkable by completing a marathon, and for many of you reading this you have not just completed it, you have pushed hard to run a personal best or beat a personal milestone time. You must now respect the effort you put in and the effect it will have had on your body. You need to relax and allow your muscles, tendons, joints etc as well as your central nervous system time to recover. This is not to mention the importance of a mental and psychological break. Take your time, regain your focus and be ready to attack your next block of training with the same motivation and vigour as you did your marathon training.

If you rest now for 10-14 days and then resume training in a sensible way, the opportunity is there to have the best of both worlds;  Recover from the marathon itself, and also continue to utilise the fitness you have built up in the run up to the marathon in your upcoming races over the next few months.

The post marathon road race season (or even track if that is your thing) can be a great time to hit some PB performances. By adding some shorter high intensity training to the large aerobic base you obtained in the build up to your marathon you can quickly convert your current shape into great 5-10k shape. Thus either allowing you you to maintain your current momentum off the back of a great marathon, or to salvage some great performances even if the marathon itself didn’t go as planned.  However, if you don’t take the recovery seriously now then you risk jeopardising that opportunity. The runners who come back too soon post marathon are the ones complaining of a general underlying fatigue and lethargy months down the line, the ones who are under performing and seem to be banging their heads against a wall trying to understand why they can’t find form despite putting in the effort in training. Or even worse… they are injured and not running at all.

Of course there are many factors which influence why an athlete gets injured, but returning too fast after a marathon is a huge risk factor and one which you can easily avoid.

What do we suggest for the post marathon recovery?

Days 1-3 Post Marathon: Sit around, relax, do as little as possible

The first few days your legs are going to be seriously sore and it’s unlikely that running will be near the top of your desired activities. However, as the muscular soreness starts to ease in a few days time there is every chance that you will start to get that nagging urge to head out for a run ‘just an easy one’ you will tell yourself. Try to ignore that voice for as long as you can. Even if the muscular soreness has subsided, there is lot more going on and there are other systems at play which need rest as well. Don’t mistake the reduction in muscular soreness as a sign that your body is fully recovered. Your internal systems also need adequate time to recover.

Focus on sleep, rest and good nutrition to help your body recover from the extremes you put it through on race day.

Days 4-10 Post Marathon: Slowly introduce light activity to help promote recovery.

As you begin to approach the middle and end of week one post marathon, the shocking soreness will be slowly subsiding and you can start to consider other methods of improving recovery and preparing your body for a return to training which now go beyond out and out rest. Whilst you should continue to focus on getting adequate sleep, and generally resting as much as possible, you can now start to introduce other activities into your routine.

At this stage, light aerobic exercise can help to promote recovery above rest alone. In much the same way as a  recovery run during the normal training cycle does, light exercise will promote blood flow and thus the delivery of nutrients to the muscles as well as the removal of toxins.

Light and easy is the key here, also with minimal impact. Swimming, aqua jogging and walking are all excellent options right now. Keep the intensity light and the volume low. 

You can also consider some light gym/conditioning exercises and start working on the weaknesses which held you back or contributed to injuries and inefficiencies in the previous training cycle.

A treatment with a massage therapist can be an excellent investment at this point in time.  Both for pure recovery purposes as well as to ease any specific areas of tightness away.

Days 10-14 Post Marathon: Return to running

Ease back into running with slow short jogs initially, gradually building towards your full training volume and intensity over a period of 2-3 weeks. The first few runs should be little more than short recovery jogs, gradually building into your normal easy runs by around the 5th or 6th run post marathon. These need not be on consecutive days and you can continue to take additional rest days at this point in time, it’s not a case of all or nothing. 

By the second week you can start to incorporate some faster running in the form of strides or light picks ups within an otherwise easy run. This can be used alongside some ‘moderate’ or ‘medium’ effort runs such as progression runs where the majority of the run is a comfortable pace but you gradually increase the speed and effort throughout.

Don’t be in a rush to ascend back to full training. Look to build back to your normal level of hard workouts around 2 and half or 3 weeks after your initial return to running. You won’t have lost any fitness during this period and your body will thank you down the line!

Next time out we will have a look at a few ideas for the training block immediately after a marathon.

Good luck and enjoy your post marathon break


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