After a marathon, it is totally understandable that your body needs a break. And you might find yourself really hungry and supersluggish for days after your race. That’s fine. Sleep in. Eat what your body is asking for.
But sometimes we go beyond that, and for days and even weeks after a race.
At some point, we need to say,
“OK body, time to look ahead, not behind.”
So how do we get back to “normal” after months of training (and eating accordingly), then carb loading, then running 26.2 miles, and then trying to recover from it all?
Starting with a Clean Slate
First, it is incredibly important to forgive and forget anything you did or ate after your race that you might want to regret. Pizza for lunch for five consecutive days? Ice cream for breakfast? The entire contents of a vending machine? Whatever. You didn’t do any lasting damage to your body. You might feel sort of gross, and you might not look like you did at the peak of training, but steps below will help with that…
Beating the Bloat
In the week following a marathon, I often get very bloated from eating everything I can get my hands on and eating more processed food than normal. It is a terrible feeling–I don’t feel like an athlete, and I feel like I’ve gotten far off track. To make matters worse, when I am bloated, something in my body says “Curl in a ball and keep eating junk.” Which just makes me feel even more bloated!
How do I break the cycle? I like to start with a hot shower. Then, I pop a Gas-X and brew some herbal tea, like The Republic of Tea’s “Get Clean” blend. When I wake up the next morning, I feel and look better and am ready to crawl out of my post-marathon hole.
Start slowly. Consider beginning with low-impact workouts such as gentle yoga, Pilates, barre, biking, or swimming. Go for walks. When you’re no longer sore, try that gym class you’ve been interested in but hadn’t had time to check out during marathon training. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly. I did Orangetheory the Thursday after Freedom’s Run, but I used lighter weights than normal and didn’t do the full incline on the treadmill. Even still, it felt so good to sweat and to feel strong again.
Re-introduce running when you feel ready. Don’t worry about your pace, and don’t set out on a long run to start–I’d stick to less than five miles for the first run after a marathon. Let yourself enjoy running.
I use “clean” as a short-hand for minimally processed foods. These are the foods that usually make my body feel the best–regular, energized, satisfied. But, remember, eating clean has nothing to do with calorie restriction. This isn’t about losing weight; it is about feeling good and nourishing our bodies, of whom we have asked so much.
A few examples: air popped popcorn (I drizzle a little olive oil or truffle oil on mine), apples (sometimes with peanut butter or a little cheese if you tolerate dairy well), oatmeal (maybe with fruit or nuts but never with syrup or brown sugar), roasted vegetables such as seasoned sweet potatoes, homemade vegetable soups or chili, refreshing salads (sweetgreen makes my favorites), carrots and hummus, green smoothies (watch the sugar content in some recipes), vegetable omelettes, rice and beans, unsalted nuts.
Plan Your Next Move
I like to always have something on the calendar. Maybe you’re not ready to commit to another marathon yet. So sign up for a turkey trot or a 10k. Or at least mark your calendar with a goal race for next year.
Personally, I like to take my momentum and sign up for a race soon after finishing a marathon. This time, I’ve signed up for the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January, three months after recently-completed Freedom’s Run. And I’m also looking ahead to summer and fall races, knowing that some races require lottery entry or very early signup. If you have a race in mind, make sure you check out those details well in advance so you don’t miss your chance to register.
How do you get back to normal after a marathon? What are your biggest challenges?
Great article, I think you nailed some very common post-marathon reactions, particularly around nutrition and recovery. I think there is also the mental letdown type of challenge in that for 3-4 months, maybe longer, there has been a big goal race to prepare for, and throughout training most runners have that one goal in mind…and then it’s gone just like that. As you mention, it is a great opportunity to plan that next goal race. Also during the recovery period I start outlining my next training plan which helps keep some of the bad eating habits in check for me. But planning the race calendar is always a lot of fun…just this past weekend my wife and I identified our major races through 2016. Good luck with your next cycle!!
Thanks very much! Yes, totally agree on the mental challenge–sort of like “umm what do I do now?” And it can be hard to find a balance between taking the downtime as an opportunity to try new things and relax vs. jumping back into training for the next thing. Looking forward and scheduling my future races really helps with setting up some time to be “off” when needed but also keeping training toward the front of my mind. Good luck to you as well!