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Published: 30 May 2017

How to combat post marathon blues and work out what’s next!

Almost a month on from the Stratford Half /Marathon, many competitors who finished the race will either be back in their trainers or will be thinking about testing their post-race legs out on an easy jog.  A general rule suggests that runners ‘take one day of rest for every mile raced’ so you should be more than recovered! However, muscle recovery is highly variable between individuals and there is no exact formula: the best guide is ultimately tuning in and listening to your body.  Even when your muscles begin to feel fresher, the recovery process is still ongoing within the body. Some people may now be desperate to lace up their trainers again, while others may be quite happy extending their recovery with a another week of rest.  Either away, after completing such a gruelling distance that does take its toll on the body, your recovery should still be gradual and gentle at this stage. 

It is also not uncommon for some athletes to feel ‘half / marathon blues’ after the initial high of finishing the race. After having worked towards such a big target for the last few months, it can feel very unnerving not having a sense of direction and an immediate goal that you are not working towards.  It is important that you take your time to recover physically before you tackle the next target so it’s worth considering carefully a new target that will be realistic and that excites you going forward.  If the two are harmonious, you will soon banish any post-race blues!  Here are some tips to hopefully help you to keep feeling fresh and ready for a new challenge:

How to combat the physical lull:
Don’t underestimate the huge physical challenge that you have completed and do plan your comeback to running carefully. Many people are so keen to get back running that they come back far too quickly. This leaves them feeling exhausted still weeks after the race and taking far longer to recover.

  • Stay healthy: Your resistance to injury and illness are still low in the month after endurance events, particularly if you have run the marathon, so it pays to build back up gently. Forget the pace of your runs and counting miles: resume with light and gentle runs which are short in duration.  Light exercise will deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and carry away metabolic waste, healing and recovery. Try to gain extra sleep, eat as much healthy and fresh food as possible and carry an anti-viral cream around! 
  • Re-build miles and intensity gradually: Start on low mileage and increase gradually, no more than 10 miles extra a week. Some people think of this phase as a ‘reverse taper’. It’s best to have at least a week of easy running or more before you begin faster sessions. Perhaps begin with a light pick up of pace within a steady run, then progress in the next session to include some faster intervals that has fewer reps than you would usually do e.g. 6x2mins. Gradually adding the additional reps and miles back in will be far more effective in the long term.
  • Run soft! Try to do more of your runs off road, particularly when starting back to give your legs from the tarmac. It’s also a good idea to wear a different pair of trainers to those you raced in and to wear a more cushioned or supportive trainer.
  • Bring forth the compression gear! Wearing compression tights or socks may help reduce the inevitable stiffness and sore muscles that you will feel on your first runs back. 
  • Roll out: For some DIY relief, try foam rolling (but don’t over-do it) to help alleviate built up muscle tension and increase flexibility. A golf or tennis ball will also do wonders to help areas like the balls of the feet.
  • Massage, stretch and pamper: Having a massage or two within the month after your race will accelerate the recovery process. Deep massage should be avoided in the first couple of weeks: your legs are probably already battered! It could also be hugely worthwhile seeking an MOT, with a reputable physio, if you suspect that you do not have any lingering niggles or alignment out of place post-race. A trip to the chiropodist may also be worthwhile if the feet are particularly sore and your toe nails or blisters are not recovering.
  • When to race? Your muscles will still contain micro-tears after a marathon; it is advisable not to race again within a month and to avoid racing on hard surfaces like road. If you have completed the half marathon, you may also benefit from waiting to race again. When you do decide to race again, the distance should be shorter e.g. 10k. Personally I found even racing 5 weeks after the marathon was tough and took much more out of me that usual. Generally, I feel like my body is about 100 the day after the marathon and find that it regresses a couple of decades each week after the marathon! You may even find that it takes a full 3 months before you get your full racing ‘bounce’ back. Either way, relax and don’t panic:  the body will return to you firing on all cylinders when ready.  

    How to combat the mental lull:
    Many people feel listless and feel that they lack direction after completing a target race. Take time to decide on a longer term goal…..
  • Ensure that you find a new, LONG TERM goal that EXCITES you: you may wish to do another half/marathon, but perhaps find a new location or course e.g. New York that represents a new adventure that will inspire you. Perhaps focus on new PB to target or an age related or club or charity record that you feel maybe in your grasp! It needs to work for you and be your dream: ‘To be successful, your goal needs to align with one’s personal values’  stated the wise Dr Edwin Locke
  • Set SHORT TERM, ACHEIVABLE goals: Even if you have another big race planned in a few months, it’s best to have some shorter term goals to target, that represent a new and fresh challenge before you launch back into more specific training 
  • Step down: Focusing on shorter distances like 5k and 10k will feel a real and perhaps refreshing contrast to endurance training. Accept that you may feel fatigued so it’s better to make a plan with a realistic time frame: a Park Run PB is unlikely within one month of the marathon! 
  • Don’t take on too much:  Full on inspiration on the back of a feel good race, it can be tempting to overhaul ALL your whole training schedule and goals. It’s better to settle on a couple of shorter term targets and one bigger one. Be honest with your commitments: If you’re priority is to get a new job/ finish the extension / spend more time with your family, be realistic about what you can achieve within the months after a marathon.
  • Evaluate your race and make refinements: Learn from your race performance. Assess the positives and what you think you could do better. After completing a half/marathon race is a good time to make refinements to your training. It is less risky to experiment when you do not have an immediate race target and can be a good time to work on other areas e.g. a new nutrition plan, strength and conditioning work.
  • Be a man with a plan: Often we lack direction as we may have a less structured training plan post-race. Accept that it will need to be flexible, but do still think about a plan to map out where you going and how you will move forward. 
  • Speak to someone who inspires you: what can you learn from them? You may be lucky enough to have someone you can chat to within a running circle about this but this could also be your coach, husband or close relative. Speaking to someone who knows you well and believes in you can open up new doors: they may well encourage you to go for a goal you dismissed. Often others see something in you that may influence you to try a new challenge you did not think was possible before.

    So to conclude, recover, plan and go forth with your new adventures! I’m loving hearing about athletes new plans and helping to advise those I coach on how to achieve them. The key is to use this time to take stock and re-evaluate in a smart and meaningful way. It’s never worth sacrificing a long term goal to satisfy an immediate one. Remember that even Olympic champions like Jessica Ennis confess to needing some down time after their achievements so don’t be too hard on yourself during this phase if you still feel that it’s too early to resume thinking about new goals. When the mind and body are truly ready, you’ll be all the better for a good rest. Be patient and know that when you feel the desire in your heart and fully commit to a goal, you can expect great things ahead. Happy training!

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