After experiencing the personal satisfaction of completing one’s first marathon, many runners are interested in resuming their training immediately. While completing a marathon is quite exciting and motivating, extreme care must be taken in the weeks following the marathon regarding the rebuilding of mileage to pre-marathon levels. The effects on the muscular-skeletal system are tremendous, as muscles have experienced micro-trauma, a fancy word for very small tears of the muscular tissue that normally occurs as a result of the physical demands of the marathon. This is a normal occurrence. These tears require adequate time to heal and regenerate. Jumping right into a heavy training schedule will slow down the recovery of muscles and soft-tissue. Even if the micro-trauma damage is minimal, the soft connective tissue and bones of the body are in a vulnerable state immediately following the marathon. To reduce the possibility of incurring an injury, a prudent approach to the full resumption of training should be taken. Some training resources state that runners should take a week or so off with no running after a marathon. Instead, it is recommended to engage in cross-training activities to maintain cardio-vascular fitness while at the same time, allowing the body to rest, recover, and heal. My belief is that you must listen to what your body tells you. If you are experiencing muscular soreness, walking or easy cycling are ideal activities to loosen up the legs the week following the marathon. You should aim to take the entire week off following your marathon, allowing your body time to recover. Each week thereafter you could look to increase your weekly mileage by 25 percent. As always, listen to your body to monitor how you feel, to ensure that you do not do too much too soon. On week two after your marathon you should aim for three rest days and no more than twelve miles in total for the week (ie: 4 running sessions of 3 miles each). On week three you total distance could increase to 20 miles, again with three rest days (ie: 2 sessions of 4 miles and 2 sessions of 6 miles). On week four your total distance could increase to 30 miles, with two rest days (ie: 2 sessions of 5 miles, 2 sessions of 6 miles and 1 of 8 miles). By week five your total distance could increase to 35 miles, again with two rest days. Week six should be an easy recovery week, reducing your total distance to 16 miles with three rest days (ie: 4 running sessions of 4 miles each).
Scheduling Your Next Marathon
How soon can you begin training for, and participating in your next marathon? The answer to this question depends on several factors. Some of these include, but are not limited to, years of running experience, type/intensity of the training program utilized for the previous marathon, energy/effort expended during that marathon, duration/completeness of leg recovery from the previous marathon, among many other factors. Most experts say that two marathons should be the limit one should run per year (spaced six months apart). This rule applies both to the beginner and novice (regardless of marathon pace) along with the advanced runner who turns in a competitive (hard) effort. Experienced runners who complete their previous marathon at a moderate to easy effort may be able to complete another 26.2-mile race sooner than the recommended six-month waiting period. How much sooner depends upon the factors mentioned in the previous paragraph. The central concept to consider is that the body needs adequate time to recover from a marathon. Training for, and competing in another 26.2 mile event before one’s legs have fully recovered can lead to a variety of overuse injuries. Is it worth the risk? While I don’t think that it is, the decision is ultimately yours.
Staying Motivated and Combating Burnout
It is not uncommon for runners to suffer post-event depression after finishing a marathon. This is due in part to achieving a goal that took much time and energy to accomplish. Days after the event, runners oftentimes feel a void in their lives. Until you are ready both mentally and physically to set new goals, consider the following strategies to deal with reduced motivation and/or burnout: Run simply for fun, not worrying about following a training schedule; Supplement your running by participating in cross-training activities; Take a break altogether from running; Spend more time with family and friends and enjoy some social activities or non-athletic hobbies.
Setting New Goals
When the burnout phase is over, or if you were lucky enough to avoid this period, think about some running goals you’d like to accomplish over the next few months. Keep in mind that these don’t necessarily have to center around a marathon. You may wish to improve your 5K time or perhaps, you might be interested in completing a triathlon. See strategies above regarding the setting of new goals.