Marathon runners devote a lot of time and energy to training and preparing for race day. Just as important as pre-race preparation is post-race recovery. Training for and completing the 26.2 mile marathon distance is physically punishing and there’s a significant “shock” to our entire system. In the critical weeks following a marathon we’re more susceptible to injury and illness.
An Ounce of Prevention
It makes sense that properly training for a marathon usually means you’ll likely enjoy a relatively quick recovery. Some experts recommend taking one recovery day for every mile we race – for the marathon this means approximately 26 recovery days. That doesn’t mean we don’t exercise during these critical post-race recovery days, but perhaps we choose non-weight bearing “active” rest activities like swimming and/or bicycling. I do some light running during the recovery weeks, but nothing too intense. I highly recommend no intense running or racing for six weeks after completing a marathon. Again, if you train adequately, your chances are good for a healthy recovery.
Nursing an Injury
Quite often we sustain a nuisance injury during marathon training. If you’re experiencing lingering injury pain after the race, take some time off from running, until the injury pain subsides. This is a good time to explore preventive exercises that might help keep the injury from recurring. For future injury prevention, I highly recommend strength training and practicing yoga on a regular basis.
Beware of Post-Marathon Colds
Our immune system takes a beating when we run a marathon. We’re very susceptible to colds during the immediate aftermath and it’s important to get as much sleep as possible, eat a healthy diet, and concentrate on re-hydration. If you do catch a cold after a marathon, it’s important that you DO NOT run or exercise with a fever. You can resume running after the fever subsides and your energy level returns to normal.
We also put a lot of emotionally energy into marathon training and planning for the race. Some folks feel an emotional letdown after the marathon is over and this is partly due to the body’s extreme fatigue level. Scientific research has shown that choline, an important neurotransmitter, is depleted during strenuous endurance events and this depletion might trigger the post-race “blues” for some runners. Maybe you’re disappointed in your race performance or you feel a little lost with no structured training program in place. If you’re motivated by having a future race scheduled, go ahead and start planning. Most importantly, give yourself some time to rest and regain your energy level. The post-marathon “blues” will fade away.
Post-Marathon Recovery Indicators
If you just completed a warm-weather marathon, it’s important to keep an eye on your post-race weight. In a dehydrated state your body weight will be lower than normal. Keep-up post-race hydration until your body weight returns to normal.
Another important physiological indicator to watch is your resting heart rate (RHR). A good time to take your RHR is first thing in the morning. Mine is usually around 45-50 bpm. If your RHR is elevated 10-15 bpm higher than normal, there’s a strong likelihood your body is still fatigued and you’re in need of more rest.
I’m also a vocal advocate of using a heart rate variability monitoring system. I’ve been using the Bioforce HRV system for the better part of the year and I’m sold on it’s usefulness when it comes to monitoring recovery and workout readiness. In a nutshell, heart rate variability systems measure the amount of stress placed our systems. Stress comes in many forms, e.g., training/racing, poor nutrition, dehydration, lack of sleep, work pressures, etc. I highly recommend trying one of the heart rate variability systems on the market. HRV is great tool for monitoring recovery and tracking physiological trends, both good and bad.
Embrace the Rest
Bask in the glow of your great achievement. Allow your body to physically recover and then, if the spirit moves you, start planning ahead for another race. At the age of 55, I am now happily retired from the 26.2 racing distance. I do remember the ebb and flow of my marathon training years and I always enjoyed the post-marathon recovery weeks. Embrace both the physical and emotional rest.