Wow! I knew training for a marathon would be a lot of work,
but the one thing I didn’t think about was how much work it would be to
recover! You can’t just run a marathon and wake up the next day and go back to
normal life. Well I guess you could, but normal life would be full of pain and
it would take you longer to get back to running.
According to my running coach and several articles I read, it
can take two to three weeks to fully recover from a marathon. Some say that you
should take one day off for each mile you have raced – i.e. 26 days. Hal Higdon
takes these 26 “rest” days to mean that you shouldn’t run hard or race for 26
days. This doesn’t mean you can’t do some easy runs; just don’t overdo it. The
training after your marathon should near mirror your taper before the marathon
– i.e. the week following the marathon should involve a lot of rest and some
running but not much. The weeks that follow can include more running but no
intervals or hard workouts.
The Day of the Marathon
In an ideal world (i.e. you have unlimited time and
resources to actually accomplish all of these tasks), the day of the marathon
should consist of:
- Eating healthy, high carbohydrate foods
- Drinking a lot of fluids, including sports drinks with
electrolytes (avoid alcohol)
- Getting into warm, dry clothes
- A long walk before any long term sitting
- Elevation of legs/feet
- A lukewarm or cold shower with Epsom salt (no hot showers
which can further damage lactic acid-soaked muscles)
- A light massage (but no vigorous stretching)
- A good night’s sleep
As for my race-day recovery, it went a little like this:
immediately following the finish, I walked around a bit, bent over and
stretched (realized this was painful and quickly stopped), grabbed a couple of
water bottles and ate an orange (it took me about 20 minutes to want to eat it
though). I stood at the finish area for about 15 minutes, talking to friends
and recapping the race, then headed over to the VIP tent which was quite a
distance away. Once we got to the VIP tent, we sat down for a bit and then I
got a plate of food from the free buffet and ate a little bit of macaroni and
cheese (the other food was pretty gross). I also drink some cytomax recovery
After a little more race recap (and meeting some of the Kenyan runners
who were eating at our table, including the 3rd place marathon
finisher), I changed into dry, warm clothes. About a half hour later we took
the trolley back to our car and then drove to the harbor where we had an all
you can eat champagne brunch (oops broke the no alcohol rule) which definitely
included plenty of carbs (pancakes, fruit, breakfast potatoes, cookies, ice
cream, you name it). Since it was a buffet, I wasn’t sitting down for all that
long (plus this is when the 16 water stops during the race finally caught up to
me and I was in the bathroom every 30 min). Afterward, Asia, Jeremy, Mike and I
went to PB and had more drinks at a restaurant near the beach. When we arrived
home at about 6:30, I took a warm shower, relaxed for a bit and then we walked
to a local restaurant for a chicken, veggie and brown rice stir fry bowl. We
were in bed by 10 p.m. and slept until 8 a.m. (10 hours!) So I hit about 4-5 of
the major points (I got the high carb but not the healthy part of the food)
above. Not too bad.
The Two-Four Days After the Marathon
Basically, all articles point to REST for these days in addition
to some short walks. Most say to not even cross-train. Blake did say that we
could do some light cross-training. On Monday and Tuesday I went for about a 2
mile walk and also tried not to sit for too long. On Tuesday night I stretched
for the first time.
The perfect time for a massage after the marathon is between
24-48 hours. I had my massage at 3 p.m. on Monday, about 28 hours after the
race. Perfect. It felt amazing, although I wish that she had focused more on my
legs. It wasn’t a sports massage, just a relaxation massage, although sports
massages are recommended.
On Wednesday I was feeling much better and did Core
Synergistics in the morning. This is usually part of P90X’s recovery week, so I
figured it was a good cross training exercise. I felt great doing it and made
sure to stretch afterward for longer than usual.
As for nutrition this week, it is emphasized not to diet.
The scale may actually indicate a 2-4 pound weight gain right after the
marathon due to water retention to help the body repair. Since the body is in
full recovery mode, you need to listen to it and eat what it wants you to eat,
in moderation. Don’t count calories or diet, just listen to what your body is
telling you and always eat when hungry.
I definitely followed this advice – there was no P90X
nutrition plan in store for me this week with several social obligations that
had me eating lots of pasta (I was not happy about a required work dinner at a
pasta restaurant – I was so sick of carbs after eating them non-stop for a full
week before the marathon). Although I did make myself a healthy salad for lunch
a couple of days, overall I didn’t create any calorie deficits (pretty hard to
do when you aren’t working out and you have to eat out several times).
When Can I Run Again?
Since I am ramping up for more training (my first triathlon
in July and a half marathon in August), I wanted to recover was quickly as
possible. Recovery will vary based on whether or not you have another running
race to get to. If your latest marathon was the last you plan on running for at
least several months or more, you can literally just stop running. But if you
plan to run again, the absolute earliest you can consider going for a run is
Thursday, i.e. 4 days after the race. I decided to wait until Saturday to try
my first run. On Thursday instead I participated in my office lunchtime yoga
class. I listened to my body on Friday and took the day off of exercise and got
9 hours of sleep Thursday night.
Up until I began researching for this blog post, I was
planning on starting P90X, Triathlon and Half Marathon training hardcore on
Monday. Well, although I still plan to start P90X and tri training on Monday,
I’m going to take it easier than planned. According to every article I read,
you should not do any intense training (i.e. intervals or anything that gets
your heart rate about 75% maximum) for at least 3 weeks post marathon. Some
recommend waiting up to six weeks before
incorporating hard workouts. The body is very prone to injury after a very
intense race. I plan to do a nice and easy 5-6 mile run tomorrow (Saturday, 6
days from the race) and then start working my way into half marathon training
with 7 next week.
The important part to stress in marathon recovery is that
you need to listen to your body. If your body feels exhausted after 9 hours of
sleep, then sleep 10 hours. If you don’t feel like working out one night, then
don’t. This is the time that you are most prone to injury and it’s important to
listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Personally, this is the hardest
part for me because I am VERY antsy to get back into my workout groove. I got
sick a week and a half before the marathon and took several days off and then
started the taper and then took a few days off after the race. I am craving a
hard, sweaty workout and it will be hard for me to hold back!
Hi, Nicole. I just stumbled upon your blog and think it’s GREAT! I ran in the Chicago marathon this month (my first one) and was thinking about starting p90x or insanity as a new way to ramp up my training program. The thing is… I don’t want to stop running. Did you keep up with your running while doing these workouts? Or were they so intense that you weren’t able to maintain the long distances? Just curious what kind of schedule you were able to do the first time around.
Thanks! I actually did train for both a half marathon and a full marathon during P90X. It is totally doable but it will take your workout time up to about 10 hours a week, if you are ok with that. My blog has lots of details on how I managed it, but let me know if you have any questions in particular. I’m a Beachbody coach so let me know if you’d like to purchase a program from me! http://www.teambeachbody.com/fitnessfatale
Here’s my P90X results blog which also gives info on how I balanced it with marathon training: https://fitnessfatale.com/2011/04/27/p90x-day-90-before-and-after-pictures-measurements/