Getting the Recovery Right

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I love to keep things organised: I make lists, I forward plan and I can be a bit of a creature of habit. Perhaps this is why I LOVE training plans. A training plan tells me exactly what I have to do every day, and if I stick to it then at the end I get to celebrate all that training with the “victory lap” of a race. The problem is, since that training plan has been geared towards one specific event, it ends on race day. Then what? I could easily start a new plan, even without a specific event to train for, but in actual fact what’s more important is to have effective recovery from that event before looking to the next target. After making mistakes in my post-marathon recovery last year (and getting injured as a result) this year I’m taking my recovery VERY seriously, in fact it is currently the focus of my training plan. Right now, I’m enjoying a recovery plan.

Last year, I executed a near-perfect marathon training plan and got my race just about spot on. I was on cloud nine, had recovered well throughout training and seemed to recover quickly from the race itself. Rather than wanting to hang up my trainers for the foreseeable future, I was feeling great and desperate to run again. Within a week of the race, I was back pounding the pavements again and, inevitably, not long after I got injured. Although I felt good, my body wasn’t yet ready for the stresses of running so did the only thing it could to force me to rest. Perhaps if I had taken a bit longer to recover, I would have avoided that injury and in turn avoided a frustrating 5 month period when I couldn’t run at all. Who knows.

So what about this year? My training may not have gone quite to plan, and my race expectations may have been adjusted, but right from the start I had a clear recovery plan in place. REGARDLESS of how I felt after the Paris Marathon, I was having a minimum of two weeks off running. “Minimum” meant that if everything felt great, I could try an easy run after that fortnight had passed, but if there was any lingering issue, I had the option to extend that lay-off to help ensure my return to running would be for the long term. But that doesn’t mean my recovery plan was for a minimum of two weeks sitting on the sofa stuffing my face! I knew that within a few days of the marathon my legs would feel like my own again and I would be keen to get some kind of exercise. I also knew that this would be a mistake. And that’s where having a plan becomes really important so that even the rest has a clear purpose and goal to it.

My recovery began as soon as I crossed the finish line in Paris. One moment I was doing the “Mobot” for the camera (this seemed like a good idea in my marathon-addled brain!), the next I was thinking about my post-race nutrition and re-hydration.

Official race photo

When I was handed a bottle of water I asked for, and was given, a second one. I struggle to eat immediately after a long run, especially when it’s warm, but I knew I needed something in me to replace lost energy and start the recovery process, so I grabbed a couple of those delicious orange segments I had been enjoying out on the course. I kept myself moving, resisting the temptation to sit at the side of the road and allow the polarised emotions of finishing a marathon to engulf me, as I knew I had to keep my legs moving. I sipped on one of my bottles of water while I walked, then as soon as I met Steve I used the second one to make up my recovery shake with the mixer bottle and sachet of powder I had in my bag. I continued to drink this as we shuffled around taking photos and on the way back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I made up a bottle of electrolyte drink and headed for the bath with my drink and a packet of crisps, which served the twin purposes of replacing the salts I had lost in sweating and giving me something to inhale quickly as soon as the post-race hunger kicked in! The bath eased my legs and when I emerged it was straight on with the compression socks then I stretched out on the hotel bed to relax and catch up on messages.

For me, post-marathon recovery is about striking a balance between what the body needs to kick-start the recovery process, and treating myself after not just the efforts of the race, but all the weeks of training that led up to it. I initially focused on important things like hydration and recovery products, but I also indulged in some treats that I wouldn’t normally have, such as my meal later that evening:

For the remainder of the week once we were home, I knew it would be important to try and keep moving, but to focus on gentle exercise that wouldn’t tire me out too much (nothing like a marathon to take you from “super-fit” to “unable to climb stairs without getting out of breath” in one morning!). In week one of my recovery, my plan was that I could walk and I could swim, both of which I did. Signing up to the 5×50 challenge was useful here as I knew I needed to be active for 30 minutes each day, and 30 minutes was probably about enough for recovery exercise. I also made sure to have a sports massage towards the end of the week to further help the recovery process. I kept hydrated, ate healthily and found nice ways to treat myself such as a spa pedicure:

There was also another treat in store the weekend after the marathon when, after we volunteered at parkrun in the morning, Steve took me to Knock Castle for the night. We spent the Saturday afternoon enjoying the pool and steam room, I had a lovely bath (because the room had a bath with feet!) and we enjoyed a delicious meal. It was really good to have a rare night away where neither of us had to get up and take part in an event We also enjoyed the even rarer treat of not having to go out and train on Sunday morning!

So if week one of my recovery was gentle exercise and some little treats, what about week two?

In week two, I was back at work and therefore back in a “normal” routine. In week two, I was also allowing a bit more exercise (so long as it wasn’t running!). One gorgeous, warm evening I got out on my bike for an hour; another evening I headed to the studio to do some work on stretching and strengthening my quad muscle which was still grumbling a bit after the marathon (although I remain astounded that it posed no problems during the race itself). I re-assessed my “minimum” of two weeks without running and decided that it would need to be three to four weeks to allow my quad sufficient time to heal. It’s made a remarkable improvement, but before running again I want to be sure that I’ve rebuilt enough strength for it to cope, allowing me to begin training properly again.

There was another little treat at the end of week two as we were invited to the Macmillan ball in Dundee as a mark of appreciation for all the fundraising we have done. It was a lovely evening, but also a stark reminder of why we chose to fundraise in the first place as we saw evidence of the support and care Macmillan provides and listened to the stories of those who have survived cancer and are incredibly grateful for Macmillan. This princess definitely enjoys the chance to put on a posh frock, although I would have been much happier in a pair of running shoes than a pair of heels!

After my two week recovery plan, I’m feeling great and if it wasn’t for my reservations about my quad, I’d be starting to gradually reintroduce running again. Instead, I’m going to listen carefully to my body and wait. But just because I’m not running, doesn’t mean I don’t have a continued plan to move from recovery to training. I’ll finish week two of my recovery with a long Sunday morning cycle (somehow fitted in around watching TV coverage of the London marathon!). Next week, I’ll look to reintroduce the pattern of my training from before the marathon, replacing running with cycling. I’ll also continue to work hard on the exercises I’ve been doing to strengthen my quad muscle, which so far is responding really well.

Oh, and just to make sure I’ve got a “carrot” to motivate me through those exercises and get back to running again soon, I bought myself a little post-marathon treat. It’s ok, Steve knows! πŸ™‚

What’s your recovery plan after a goal race?
What’s your favourite post-race treat?

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19 thoughts on “Getting the Recovery Right

  1. Sounds like you are recovering well. Good to hear.

    Well, I didn’t have a plan. I thought I might take a week off and then I would start training running because Warren and I are taking part in a 25k trail run in July. I would need to change my training to trails. Perhaps though after reading this I should give two weeks. I am new to this so you would know better than me.

    My post run treat will be a half pound PB cup. I’m going to pack it in my bag and take it with me πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Everyone is different. You might be fine after a week, but be flexible and prepared to adjust that if your body needs longer. You’ll be keen to run again, but make sure that you give yourself enough time to do so healthily.
      The PB cup sounds amazing!


      • K. Thank you. I will do. I have been off for injuries before like you and go squirrley when I can’t run so I don’t want to have that happen.

        And it is. πŸ™‚


  2. We follow the mentality of each mile you race is a day of easy running or rest. No high intensity stuff, trail runs or hill training for that time either. Everything at easy pace. Active recovery, like walking and leisurely bike rides too, but not for large chunks of time. After our big race weekend this past weekend, we’re taking it easy for the next 2-3 weeks.

    As for eating, protein and carb immediately after the race, and plenty of water to prevent the inevitable long run drowsiness. We’ve also started drinking bone broth to replace salts. Then it’s just back into eating our regular diet.

    Liked by 1 person

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