You Just Ran a Marathon Personal Record! Now What?
High fives! Running a personal record is a major accomplishment that can leave you flying high for days, if not weeks! But what should you do after a Marathon PR? Believe it or not, what you do next is just as important as your successful preparation for the race.
It’s easy to jump back to training too soon after a marathon PR and rock-star performance, but the harder you push yourself in a race (especially a marathon), the more gradual your return to running. Now this doesn’t mean you get to sit on the couch binge-watching your favorite Netflix series, but it does mean giving yourself enough active recovery time to optimally recover so you can set yourself up for another strong performance.
When I asked Marathon World Record holder Paula Radcliffe what her recovery was post race, she said, “I take a month off.” She ramps her running up slowly through the month, but takes that month off of “training.”
If you want to continue to perform at your peak, you have to train like an elite and invest in a thorough recovery phase. The goal is to train, peak in running fitness, and then recover. In other words, the aim isn’t to hold your fitness level at the peak all year long. Doing so sets you up for injury and burnout. The idea is to flow through training, racing, recovery and base maintenance through the year.
Recovery Plan — One Week After A Marathon PR
Because you pushed hard in the marathon, the first week should include rest days, light and low impact activity to boost circulation and flush the muscles and flexibility. Elliptical, cycling, and swimming for 20 minutes at an easy effort during the early part of the week, followed by Yin based yoga, foam rolling and flexibility. Build to longer 30-40 minute cross-training towards the end of the first week, and if all feels good (no aches), try an easy 30 minute run over the weekend.
Schedule a flushing massage 1-2 days post marathon, which uses light pressure and focuses on moving the lymphatic system (the body’s natural drainage system) to flush metabolic waste. The massage motion should only be “up and out” to facilitate draining the waste products from your body. For the best results, look for a massage therapist that has sports massage experience. Better yet, find one that is a runner. In other words, stay away from deep tissue massage up to 48 hours post-workout or race. The goal is to assist the body in what it’s already doing to recover.
Recovery Plan — Two Weeks After A Marathon PR
This week you’re keeping the effort level easy, and building your running frequency back. If you don’t have any aches or pains, weave easy effort running into the second recovery week. Two to three runs from 30-45 minutes during the mid-week, and a longer 50-60 minute run over the weekend. Blend in low impact cross-training (elliptical, cycling plus strength, pilates or yoga).
Recovery Plan — Three Weeks After A Marathon PR
During week three (if all feels good), build on your running time, and keep the effort easy to continue recovery. This is where many runners go wrong. Although the soreness has subsided, the body is still recovering from the demands of the marathon. Practice patience and continue to run at an easy effort this week. Boost your run time to 40-50 minutes during the two-to-three mid week, and 60 minutes over the weekend. Continue with low impact cross-training and strength, yoga or pilates. It is also important to keep the cross-training to no harder than a moderate effort level this week as well.
Recovery Plan — One Month After A Marathon PR
The final week is graduation for most, as you’ve invested in a thorough recovery phase, and you can begin to merge back into some harder effort running. Keep the majority of your runs at an easy effort, with 45-60 minute duration during the week, and a 60-70 minute long runs, and add one up tempo run; fartlek, short 30 seconds pick ups or hill run. You can also add moderate to high intensity to one of the cross-training sessions, while keeping the others at a moderate effort.
As you continue on, you can now progress into training for another event, or go to maintenance mode and focus on fitness. The key to running your best, is to recover just as hard as you race.