Life After the Marathon
After experiencing the personal satisfaction of completing their first marathon, many runners are interested in returning to their training immediately. Although completing a marathon is quite exciting and therefore motivating, you must take extreme care in the weeks and months following the event to rebuild mileage to pre-marathon levels.
The effects on your musculoskeletal system are significant, for your muscles have undergone microtrauma (small tears of the muscle tissue that normally occur as a result of the physical demands of the marathon). These muscular tears require adequate time to properly heal. Jumping right into a heavy training schedule slows down the recovery of muscles and soft connective tissue.
Even if microtrauma damage to your muscles is minimal, your joints, bones, and other soft tissue are in a vulnerable state for days or weeks following the marathon. To reduce the possibility of an injury, you should take a prudent approach to the full resumption of training.
Some experts argue that runners should take a couple of weeks off with no running after a marathon. However, it is the recommendation of this book that you engage in cross-training activities to maintain cardiovascular fitness, while at the same time allowing your body to heal. Listen to your body and don't push it! If your body tells you that it needs more time to recover, by all means give it the rest that it needs.
You should view the next four to six weeks as a reverse taper. It is better to not run at all during the first week following the marathon than it is to jog lightly. Do some light runs the second week and build your running back over the subsequent weeks. Eat healthy. A high-carbohydrate diet in the first few days after the marathon will help replenish your depleted carbs, and protein will help to rebuild damaged muscle tissue.
With plenty of sleep and some easy walks, you'll be ready to run again in no time. Remember that the basic recovery process takes about a month, during which time you should continue to rest, run easy, avoid speed work, and keep your carbohydrate load high. The rule of taking one day of recovery for each mile raced is a rule you should seriously follow. Make sure you take the time to properly recover. If you are having serious pain (more than the usual post-marathon aches and pains), you should plan to visit a sports medicine specialist.
Scheduling Your Next Marathon
Even if you have performed well in one marathon, be careful not to race too soon because you are at a high risk for injury during the next six to eight weeks. Running another marathon, a fast 10K or 10-miler, or deciding to do another 20-mile training run, say, between marathons that are spaced too close together could be enough to cause a lingering injury.
So how long should you wait before running? The answer to that question depends on many factors. These include (but are not limited to): your years of running experience; the type and intensity of the training program you've followed with your last marathon; the energy and effort you expended during that marathon; and the duration and completeness of leg recovery after your last marathon.
Most experts say that two marathons are the limit you should run per year (spaced six months apart). The central consideration is that the body needs adequate time to recover from a marathon. Training for and competing in another marathon before your legs have fully recovered can lead to a variety of overuse injuries and staleness.