The Ideal Marathon Recovery Plan: Learning from Elite Runners

One of the the things that has shocked me the most as a coach is how quickly the most runners want to jump back into hard training after a marathon.

Whenever I look at a training schedule from a runner who is not an elite, the volumes and intensities are significantly reduced from anything that I would expect a professional to be doing (for obvious reasons). However, the one time I do see normal runners training much more than elites is when I talk to them about there recovery from the marathon.

Year after year I talk to runners who tell me they are ‘ready to go’ on the Thursday after a marathon. Yes I understand the soreness has subsided or even gone completely, but your not recovered. Sometimes, soreness, or lack thereof, isn’t the best indicator that you’re recovered. In fact, here is some of the research that demonstrates how long it takes to recover from a marathon. Put it another way, if an elite runs 140 miles a week to get ready for their marathon, you can bet that their body is more used to recovering from a long hard effort then most peoples – and almost every elite takes a minimum of two weeks very easy after a marathon.

Background

This is my two weeks after running the 2009 World Championship Marathon in Berlin. I purposely chose a marathon in which I performed poorly because many runners tell me they don’t need to recover because the race went poorly. Since the time was slower than they hoped it wasn’t that hard on their legs. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, you need more recovery after you fall apart in a race.

One aside that doesn’t show up in the training log; when you take a long flight post marathon wear compression gear. In this race I didn’t fly until the next day, but at times you might be taking the red eye back that night. You don’t want a deep vein thrombosis, and factor five mutations are common and generally undiagnosed, better safe then sorry!

The Training

August 21 to September 6 2009

Saturday
Race World championships marathon,  2 mile warm up some light drills and strides, hammy started to bother after 10k, couldn’t force it under 3:20 a K after 15K, fitness failed after 30k or so, horrible race 2:32, 63rd place.  tot. 28++
PM took ice bath

Sunday
AM
Home from Berlin, dump clean clothes and grab some clean ones, then drive to Camp Foss running camp in NH.
PM 3 shakeout with Melissa at Foss, 26:11 tot. 3

Monday
27mins aqua jog

Tuesday
5 at Foss shakeout, 42 mins, strides after

Wednesday
30mins aqua jog

Thursday
4 miles very slow, 40mins plus, with St. Charles Orphanage kids, tot. 4

Friday
off

Saturday
5 shakeout in a cold rain with a couple of Camp Foss Campers, fun run tot. 5

Sunday
off, but did a bunch of stretching

Summary 15 miles for week

September 7 to September 14, 2009

Monday
5 miles shakeout with Melissa at Battle Rd. Trail, 39:58. strides after tot. 6
XT
stretching

Tuesday
off

Wednesday
5 miles shakeout at Battle Rd. with Melissa, strides after tot. 6
XT
stretching

Thursday
Off

Friday
5+ shakeout at Phillips with Melissa, strides after on track finishing with a 200m all out in 28.1 tot. 6+

Saturday
6 miles shakeout with Melissa mostly on trails in Templeton, 48:56 tot. 6

Sunday
16 miles at Phillips, mostly very easy, 2:02:04, last 600m on track in 1:36.6 (splits 32, 64)

Summary 38 miles for week

How can you apply this to your own marathon recovery

Take your time

At the minimum, no real training for at least two weeks after a marathon. Let your body recover from the damage you have done is critical if you want to continue to improve long-term. In reality,  I would suggest you take a month of active rest before you get back into serious training. You can be active in this break – go for that hike you have been meaning to do; take the dog for longer walks then usual, but no hard intense stuff and certainly keep the running to a minimum.

A little running

I like to run every other day for a half hour when recovering from a marathon. Now, in my normal training I average more then two hours a day of running, so keep that in mind.

I suggest for most runners go for an easy jog of no more then fifteen minutes, every other day, post marathon. After two weeks you can move to running daily. Not in less then two weeks though. This small amount of running isn’t for training. It is there to assist with your recovery. You get your HR up just a bit flush out some of the damaged cells, warm the muscles up and stretch them out a bit. That’s the only goal. Remember you just did the hardest workout you’ll ever do you will get a bigger fitness bump from recovering from that then you could from any workout you could force in this stretch of time.

Strides

You don’t need to kill these but you do need to be doing them. Adding a handful of light strides after each jog does amazing things for recovery. Now, on the first set of strides I’m probably only running a bit slower then marathon pace, that is fine. As the soreness goes, and it will be going quicker thanks to these strides, you will naturally go faster. The extra range of motion, the extra bump to the heart rate will increase the effectiveness of the recovery bump you’ve been getting with your easy jogs. These may seem a little weird  at first when you’re not running fast, but if you try them you will be a believer just like I am.

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References

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