With the Boston Marathon over and done with, nearly all of the personal race reports I’ve read have been somewhere on the scale of deflated to disappointed. From what I could tell, the crowds were as great as ever, but the headwind and heat did a number on thousands.
Reading all of these personal accounts of people begging their bodies to cooperate and pushing through heat exhaustion just to reach the finish line, I can’t help but feel a sense of deja vu to so many of the recaps I read after the Olympic Trials.
I know that in my experience, a disappointing race makes me want to do one thing more than anything else – seek redemption in my next race. And while planning can be therapeutic, here is some of my own personal experience with marathon recovery and why the recovery from a marathon effort is just as important as the build-up was.
Before I go into too much depth about what I recommend for others, I feel like I should share what I’ve done to recover from my most recent marathon – the Olympic Trials. Everybody is different, but it sounds like all the Olympians they had announcing in Boston have had a similar approach, so I can’t be that far off of the elite norm, right?
Here’s what I’ve done in the 9 weeks since the Olympic Trials (coming off of a build-up where I averaged around 100 miles per week for the 8 weeks prior to my taper).
- 1st week – 5mi – 1 short “run”
- 2nd week – 16mi – 3 short runs
- 3rd week – 50mi – all easy
- 4th week – 61mi – all easy plus strides 2 days
- 5th week – 71mi – 1 very moderate workout and 12mi long run
- 6th week – 88mi – 2 more challenging workouts (but still relatively moderate pace compared to the prior marathon build-up) – one with shorter intervals and one more tempo-oriented
- 7th week – 81mi – 1 35-minute fartlek, 1 5k/10k double pacing job at ~40s over my 5k PR and ~4 minutes over my 10k PR
- 8th week – 85mi – 17mi progressive LR and 3x2mi at marathon/half marathon pace
- 9th week – 73mi – 3mi-2mi-1mi workout and a 1500 PR race/5k pacing job
Maybe I take longer to recover than most, but my point is this – please don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to hit paces that used to be “easy” within the first 6 weeks after a major target marathon. Be patient and let your body tell you when you’re ready to go again.
So here are the 3 lessons I’ve learned about Marathon recovery in 11 I’ve run and recovered from:
1) Just because you ran well doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump into another race. Yes, there are those rare specimens who can run an awesome marathon and then come back within a month and run another awesome race, but I would dare say that those individuals are an exception to the rule.
I have only attempted that kind of turnaround once, and while I did run almost a 5k PR just 4 weeks after a huge marathon PR, I also paid for it in overtraining symptoms lasting over 3 months afterwards.
In my experience, cutting your recovery time short is possible, and can be fruitful, but the rewards are limited and not worth the much bigger setback that can potentially occur as a result.
2) Just because you ran an unsatisfactory time doesn’t mean you didn’t work just as hard. There’s a difference between A) running slow from the start of a marathon and using it as an aided long run and B) starting a marathon as a race and finishing in a time you could have done as a long run because things went south.
In the first scenario, most of the run was easy (as easy as 26.2 miles can be), and even then you’ll require more recovery than a typical long run of 20 miles or less.
In scenario B, the initial miles were certainly somewhat of a challenge. And I highly doubt that the subsequent miles (often at 1-3 minutes over your goal pace) were easy – otherwise you probably would have run faster, right?
Even if you never started the race, a lot of mental and physical energy is expended during the build-up itself. That’s why it can be so hard to extend a well-executed build-up when a race gets cancelled or you pull out due to last-minute illness. Even the most-tapered runner is ready for a break after her target race.
3) Recovery from what you just did is ALWAYS more important than the build-up for what’s next. Especially after either an awesome race or a particularly disappointing one, we all have a tendency to want to move on to the next thing. I know that even some of my longest flights home have flown by with scribbled thoughts on the recent race and build-up analysis, flowing right into future race plans.
However, it is crucial that you put your recovery first before any other exciting plans that you might think you’d like to try. I know how tempting it can be, but the truth is that if you go back into training full force only to break down a couple weeks later, you’ll wind up weeks or months behind where you would have been if you had just been patient and waited until your body was ready in the first place.
While these might not be the words or wisdom you want to hear, this is just what I have learned from my own experience and watching others struggle to find their way.
Learn to enjoy your down time because it is every bit as important as any other part of your training. Plus, it’s a time to relax. It’s a time to process. It’s a time to dream and learn to hope again.