Marathon Recovery Check In, Four Weeks Post Philly

After months of hard training, that post-marathon period is a time to rest and recover.

I ran the Philly Marathon this year, and it’s now a little over three weeks since the race. I’ve been meaning to write up a quick reflection on how my recovery has been going for a while now, and I kept putting it off. Well, tonight I figured I’d finally get it done.

Recovery After My Last Marathon

Last year, I ran my first marathon in Atlantic City. Being my first marathon, I wasn’t sure how to approach the recovery period.

I’d been burned in the past by not recovering fully after a race, so I definitely wanted to avoid that. I was looking for a plan on the conservative side. But I also didn’t fancy the idea of taking two to three weeks off from running completely.

I don’t mind running less, but running is an essential part of my routine. It would just feel weird to sleep in for two weeks and not set foot on the trails.

Anyhow, last year I used the post-marathon training block included in Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. He includes a five week “plan” following each of his marathon training plans to guide you through recovery.

It did include a few days off early on, but it quickly built back up to running 5-6 days a week. I found it to be pretty good. I was definitely sore for the first two weeks, and I started to feel “normal” during the third week. In weeks 4 and 5, I threw in some light strides, and after that I was ready to get back into some light training.

Different Approach This Year

This year, I wanted to take a slightly different approach.

Having gone into the race nursing an injury, I didn’t necessarily want to try and come back aggressively. I knew it would be smart to take this recovery period easy to make sure that my hip is in tip top shape for a spring training block.

But I also started running on a daily basis after last year’s race. I moved from 5-6 days a week to a consistent 7 days a week, and now I’ve got a run streak going of over a year. Maybe it’s a bit silly, but I didn’t want that to end.

Instead, I figured if I kept it short and easy every day, I could continue to run on a daily basis. And that’s what I did.

First Week Post-Marathon

The first week was the toughest.

I felt better after this marathon than I did last year, and I managed to walk around the city a bit post-race. But my calves were super sore and tight the next day. Stairs were a problem.

My plan was to simply run – or run-walk – 3 miles a day during the first week. I’d also keep this entirely on the trails so I wouldn’t feel bad about going as slow as I needed.

The first morning, I slept in a little bit, got dressed, and headed out with my dog. My calves were very sore, but it didn’t feel too bad when I broke into a light jog. However, I found that I couldn’t continue to run very far. I made it about a half a mile before I stopped for a short walking break (~1 minute). I was happy with that, and I continued to jog for a half mile and walk for a minute, until my three miles was up.

The next day, my calves were still shot but things felt a little better. I made it about a mile before I felt the need for a quick walking break. On day three, I felt even better and just took one short walking break at the halfway point.

Thursday and Friday weren’t great, but it wasn’t post-marathon fatigue. I came down with some kind of cold or bug. It felt a little off on Thursday, but I still managed to finish my morning run with a few walking breaks. Friday I felt a lot worse, and I called it off after a mile.

But Saturday I was feeling better. The brief illness was behind me, and my legs were starting to feel ok. I was still a little slow, but I was beginning to feel normal.

Second Week Post Marathon

The plan for week 2 was to keep it easy but bump up the mileage on a few of the days. Starting with Sunday, I planned to run 6, 3, 3, 5, 3, 5, 3 – for a total of 28 miles.

However, come Sunday I wasn’t sure that I was 100% over the illness so I cut it a bit short. But the four miles felt good.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I did my three miles fine. My pace was getting better, although it was still slow. Wednesday, I did my full five miles on the trails. I left the dog at home, and my pace was almost normal (10:12/mi, compared to ~12 min/mile earlier in the week).

Three miles on Thursday was good, as was the second five mile run on Friday. I wrapped up the week with a 30 minute jog on the treadmill Saturday morning, due to some inclement weather.

At the end of this week, things felt great. My soreness and fatigue was mostly gone. I was finishing my runs – including the longer five miles – without walking breaks. My hip seemed to be fine, which had been a concern.

So far so good.

Third Week Post Marathon

Again, I planned on slightly increasing the mileage in week three. Starting with Sunday, the plan was 8, 4, 4, 6, 4, 6, 4.

Sunday’s trail run was pretty good. I left the dog at home, and early on I was around a 10:00/mile pace and it felt easy. But on the back half I started to feel a little more fatigued. I slowed down, and my overall pace was 10:30/mile. My legs felt worse off after that run than they should have – and in retrospect it might have been a little too much. I don’t know if it was the distance or the pace, but I don’t think I was quite ready for that one.

But I survived no worse for wear. The next day, I took my dog out for four miles on the trails and everything was normal.

I spent the rest of the week away on business, and I got to run in sunny Orlando. The worst thing about traveling to Florida in the winter is running in the heat when I’m not already used to it. It wasn’t too bad in the mornings, but it was mid-60’s and humid.

It did give me a chance to really feel things out, though, since I was running on pavement for the first time since the race. And all three days went pretty well. I finished the planned mileage (4, 6, 4), and my pace was around 9:30/mi. Each day, I started out slower (~10:00/mi) until I warmed up, and then I was running closer to 9:00/mi towards the end. That’s pretty much back to normal, and I was happy to feel ok.

I had a good six mile trail run (9:59/mi pace) when I was back home on Friday, and the dog and I did our regular 4 miles on the trail on Saturday.

At the end of week 3, I was feeling great. Finished all the planned mileage (36 miles). No issues, no fatigue, my pace was normalizing. Everything’s peachy, right?

Week 4 Post Marathon

Maybe not.

I planned to continue the slow increase, with 10, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6 (46 miles). This would put me back at a normalish volume with a longer run on Sunday and about an hour each day the rest of the week.

Sunday, I went out for my “long” run. Felt pretty good in the beginning. 10 miles is nothing, right? The pace on the first five miles was great (9:30/mi down to 9:00/mi), and I was halfway done. I had initially planned on taking a quick walking break at the halfway point, just as a precautionary measure for my hip. But I felt good, so I kept going.

In that sixth mile, though, I started to feel worse and slow down. At about 6.5 miles, I stopped for a walking break. I wasn’t to the point where I had any pain in my hip – but my lower back was starting to tighten up. After that break, I was good for another mile or so, and then things started to feel worse. I ended up taking a few walking breaks in that second half, and I called it quits at 9.6 miles instead of running the last bit uphill.

This was a disappointing way to start the week, and my hip felt a bit sore afterwards. I was really worried I might have aggravated it by doing too much. So I cut the next day’s run down to 4 miles, and I included a walking break at the halfway point. Felt pretty good, but when I was stretching afterwards I could feel the tightness in my right hip.

Tuesday was better, and the dog and I finished a slow 6 miles on the trails. I made sure to stretch that night, and my hip was feeling a bit better.

As a precautionary measure, I decided I’m going to include some brief walking breaks at the halfway point of each run. I’m also going to break some longer runs up into doubles. So instead of 6 miles on Wednesday, I did 4 in the morning on the treadmill and 4 in the afternoon on the trails. I also followed up the treadmill run with a quick medicine ball workout focusing on my core and my legs. I’ve been neglecting strength training, and I think it’s time to really commit to some core training to keep my hip flexor happy.

Today, I ran 4 miles on the treadmill again and followed that with another medicine ball workout. The lunges felt better, and my hip flexor didn’t give me any issues. So I’m optimistic that my long run Sunday didn’t do any real damage – but I’m going to go easy on it over the next few weeks.

I’ve got another 4/4 double planned tomorrow, and a 6 mile trail run on Saturday, bringing the weekly total to 46.

Looking Ahead

At this point, I’ve got mixed feelings about this recovery period.

On the one hand, I think continuing to run every day was fine. It was an interesting experience to feel, on a daily basis, my fatigue start to melt away and feel my legs start to go back to normal. I would definitely follow a similar pattern again in next time.

But I’ve got some concerns about my hip flexor. It was feeling great, and then it flared up. I’m not sure if that was from running every day, from ramping up my mileage too quick, or maybe pushing the pace a bit too hard. Regardless, I’m going to take it easy over the next two weeks and really commit to the core work.

My plan was to wrap up this recovery block at the end of December and start training again on January 1. My next marathon, the Jersey City Marathon, is April 23. I’m planning to use a 12 week Pfitz plan for this marathon, which would start on January 30.

For January, I thought I might focus on some speed and spend a few weeks doing some workouts similar to the Jack Daniels 5k/10k plan that I used last year. I haven’t run a good 5k in a long time, and I was toying with the idea of spending January training and then running a time trial at the end of the month.

Now, I’m not so sure. I might keep it easy throughout January to ramp my mileage back up without putting too much stress on my body. I’ll have to wait and see how I feel over the next two weeks. I’ll definitely incorporate some strides and light tempo work in January, but I’ll have to make a decision as to whether I’m ready for real training or not.

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