Marathon Recovery

Since I just finished the Boston Marathon 2 weeks ago, I thought it would be appropriate to post about my recovery plan.  A successful plan prevents injuries & illness during the restoration to full training mode and prepares you for the next race.  Basically I follow a plan that involves running two to three days a week, coupled with 2 cross-fit sessions.  It typically takes about three weeks for my body to recover from the strain of running 26 miles. I know of people who have run the Boston/Big Sur double (2 marathons separated by 2 weeks).  Although I felt fine physically the last 10 days, I know that running a second marathon yesterday would have been returning too quickly. By doing so, I would increase the risk of injury. My friend who successfully completed this double last year, admits it took a toll on his body as he had to sit out much of the Summer in pain.

I have been questioned about the timing to start running hard and long again (to train for the next event).  I think the determining factor shouldn’t be simply how quickly your body recovers physically, but also you need to ensure you’re in the right frame of mind to run. Running shouldn’t be a chore or a penalty.  Instead it’s something you want and are excited to complete.  You need to feel this way about going out to run before you can start running with any regularity.  Although I could walk without pain in my quads within 4 days after the marathon, I wasn’t ready to go out and run a 10 miler or any kind of track workout.  I think that just as important to my physical recovery is my mental recovery.  Now that I finished the Marathon, I have no other race on my schedule (not counting the 2014 Boston Marathon). If you’re ready and willing to run 4-5 days per week and complete some cross fit in the gym, then start up again.  However, inside of 2 weeks after the marathon, any running should be easy (4-6 miles).  One school of thought is to reverse/mirror the training you completed 3 weeks before the marathon.

Let’s be honest with ourselves.  We’re not elite runners training to qualify for the Olympics.  For some crazy reason we love to run marathons and we want to continue to run marathons.  My advice is to keep your mileage down (4-6 miles per run) for the first 3 weeks, except to complete a couple longer runs of 7-9 miles, which would be completed no sooner than 2 weeks after the marathon.

Another critical factor in marathon recovery is your eating. For the few days after the race, consuming quality (not packaged) carbohydrates (fruits, pasta, bread), lean proteins, plenty of vegetables and liquid (water).  After completing the marathon, your immune system will be weak.  We absolutely need to provide our body with good food to build our system back up and remain healthy.  The famous Alberto Salazar, claims that after his famous 1982 Boston Marathon victory, he suffered from recurring injuries, colds and other illnesses.  Years later, he attributed a portion of his problems to poor recovery from this specific race.

Based on how your body feels and the timing of your next race, it’s important to follow a recovery plan.  Don’t allow yourself to get into a cycle of physical problems that impedes your return to top fitness or, even worse, sends you on a tailspin that ultimately prevents you from running. The best recovery plans take into consideration common postmarathon ailments.  Understanding the symptoms and being able to identify, manage, and prevent injuries is critical to successful recovery. Coming soon, I will publish some downloadable templates that allow anyone to develop their own marathon recovery plan.

Setting new targets for your running is nearly as important as planning for recovery without injury. A new target may be a future event, race, or fitness level. For example, after one Boston Marathon, a friend of mine decided to use his marathon training as base work for master’s track racing during the summer that followed. The target should be distant enough that it doesn’t conflict with your first goal of proper recovery. However, the target should be near enough for it to motivate you through the postmarathon blues. Although postmarathon blues are not what most people consider injuries, they can be just as harmful; thus, it’s important to quickly set new races to shoot for. Depending on the race, you can often do this before the marathon.  Just insure that race planning process doesn’t distract you from your Boston goals.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few physical issues that could be problematic after your marathon:

Race-Acquired Problems and Dehydration. From blisters to plantar fasciitis, neuroma symptoms, and iliotibial band syndrome, problems can arise during the marathon that never exist beforehand during your training. Basically, systemic problems acquired during the marathon will affect the marathon recovery process. Even something as trivial as blisters can create additional problems.  Trying to run in the early days following the race while blistered areas are still sore, can lead to componsating with our form to avoid pain. This modified running form can abnormally stress other areas already fatigued and ultimately set up new injuries. My strongest recommendation is to resolve race-acquired problems before you return to full training. Worn-Out shoes can lead to a multitude of injuries.  Most runners do not buy new shoes and break them in during the training program. Given that some shoes dramatically lose their shock-absorbing and protective characteristics after 350 to 500 miles, many runners’ shoes will be shot by the time their owners start their postrace recovery program. To avoid this injury risk factor, consider buying a new pair of shoes after Boston. Alternate from your old pair to the new pair to allow a gradual adaptation to the new shoes. Your new pair should be broken in about the same time your feet and legs are ready to scale up the training regimen.

One post race injury that I will discuss is one that I suffered through for quite a while.  In early stages, Achilles tendonitis symptoms are present early during a run and again at the end of the run. Hills and speedwork can aggravate the condition. In later stages, the Achilles tendon will be painful with any running effort and also with walking. Fortunately, I didn’t get to this latter stage.  However, I know those who have suffered from late stage achilles tendonitis and they noted that the tendon was painful to squeeze or simply touch. Also, the tendon can be sore or stiff with first steps after sleep or after sitting more than 20 minutes. The best self-care should include ice massage for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day until pain free.  Recovery from achilles tendonitis involves a disciplned approach.  The injury can take monthes to eliminate.  Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds like ibuprofen and calf-stretching exercises; When pain-free, begin strengthening with eccentric resistance exercises, such as standing on a chair or top stair on your tip-toes and (slowly) lowering your heel until you reach the endpoint, with your heel lower than the ball of your foot. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times. By adding weight (i.e., hold dumbbells) and reps as you become stronger.

Lastly, you may need to resort to a more permanant remedy.  After suffering on and off for 10+ months, my physical therapist, finally convinced me to orthotics.  He claimed that my problems were the result of pronation.  With the correct orth0tic I have been running “injury free” for the last 8 months.