Training Tips

Banish the post-marathon blues! How to overcome a physical and mental running lull

14-05-2015

It's nearly three weeks since the London Marathon and it is not uncommon for some athletes to feel 'post-marathon blues' after the initial high of finishing the race. As well as still feeling tired, some may be struggling with motivation after achieving a target that they had worked towards for so long.

Here are some tips to hopefully help you get your physical and mental running mojo back again ready for a new challenge...

ID-100197230
Some runners feel blue and lacking in direction after a marathon (picture via freedigitalpictures.net/Vlado)

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 the marathon so it pays to build back up gently. Forget the pace of your runs and high mileage weeks and resume with light and gentle runs which are short in duration. You should be exercising at a low intensity level e.g. no more than 60-65% of your maximum heart rate. This maybe 20-25minute runs every other day or runs in the 3-6 mile range. Try to gain extra sleep, eat as much healthy and fresh food as possible and carry an anti-viral cream around!
  • Listen to your heart: Monitoring your resting heart rate (RHR) is a good measure of your recovery. When your RHR returns to its normal pre-marathon RHR, this indicates that the recovery process is going smoothly.
  • Re-build miles gradually: Start on low mileage and increase gradually, no more than 10 miles extra a week e.g. 40miles, 50, 60. Some people think of this phase as a ‘reverse taper’. Your first ‘long run’ should be about 6 miles, the following weekend about 8 miles and then perhaps a 10-12 mile run the week after that. Resist the urge to resume higher miles and keep your overall mileage lower than when in marathon training until at least a few weeks after the race.
  • Re-introduce sessions gradually: 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 a fartlek session before progressing to a lighter, 5 or 10k interval session 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 regular massage e.g. once a week after the marathon will accelerate the recovery process. Deep massage should be avoided in the first couple of weeks: your legs are probably already battered! It would be hugely worthwhile seeking an MOT, with a reputable physio, to check 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 AGAIN?

P1040145Your muscles will still contain micro-tears after the race so it is advisable not to race again within a month of completing the marathon, particularly on hard surfaces like the road. 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-years-old 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

  • Ensure that you find a new, long term goal that excites you. You may wish to do another 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, achievable goals: Even if you have another marathon 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 marathon training.
  • Step Down: Focusing on shorter race distances like 5k and 10k on the track or road will feel a real and perhaps refreshing contrast to marathon training. Accept that you may feel fatigued so it’s better to make a plan with a realistic time frame: a 1500m track PB is unlikely within one month of the marathon!
  • Don’t take on too much:  Full of inspiration and feeling invincible on the back of a feel-good marathon, it can be tempting to overhaul ALL your 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 marathon performance. Assess the positives and what you think you could do better. After a marathon is a good time to make refinements to your training. It is less risky to experiment when not in ‘marathon mode’ so the reduced mileage time can be a good time to work on other areas e.g. a new nutrition plan, strength and conditioning work.
  • Be a man (or woman) with a plan: Often we lack direction as we may have a less structured training plan post marathon. Accept that it will need to be flexible, but do still draft out your training and or meet with your coach if you have one so that you can see where you going and how your 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.
  • 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!


A version of this article first appeared on EuropeanMarathons.com