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The Novice 1 Plan
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The Intermediate 2 Plan


Marathon Training Guide - Marathon Recovery

Post Marathon

Generally, it takes a minimum of two to three weeks for the body to recover from the strain of running 26 miles 385 yards. Return too quickly and you increase your risk of injury. Some experts suggest resting one day for every mile you run in the marathon, thus 26 days of no hard running or racing! Others suggest one day for every kilometer, thus 42 days rest. Well, that might be waiting too long before resuming tough training. Often the determining factor is not how quickly your body recovers, but how quickly your mind recovers, since you temporarily will have lost your main training goal. Olympic champion Frank Shorter says: "You’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one."

The training you do in the three weeks following a marathon should be a near mirror of what you did the last three weeks before: in other words, an upward, or reverse, taper. Your eating after also should mirror your eating before, since a diet high in carbohydrates can help refuel your muscles as well as fuel them. Here is what to do during Zero Week, the week after your marathon.(To purchase an interactive version of my Post-Marathon Training Guide, where I send you emails daily telling you what to run for the four weeks after that, click here.)

Zero Week

Sunday: Recovery begins the minute you step into the finishing chute. Keep moving and start drinking, preferably a replacement drink such as Gatorade. Research suggests that refueling works best if done immediately after exercise, when the body is eager to absorb energy. As soon as your stomach can tolerate food, start eating. Most marathons provide bananas, yogurt and other easily digested high-carbohydrate foods. These are good for you. A long walk to your car or hotel room won’t hurt you. After that, get off your feet and rest an hour or two. By then, you should be ready for more solid food. It too should be high in carbohydrates. (For a more detailed discussion on post-marathon recovery, read Chapter 18, "Mile 27" in my book: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.

Monday: Assuming you followed one of my 18-week training programs, Monday was always a day of rest to help your body recuperate from weekend workouts. The same principle applies. No running today! No exercise of any kind! Take it easy.

Tuesday: No running! Today’s a good day for a massage. (Schedule one before the marathon.) Although getting a quick rubdown at the finish-line massage tent may have felt good, a massage 24 to 48 hours after the marathon works best. If you have any post-race blisters, or foot problems, have a podiatrist treat them.

Wednesday: No running! And don’t substitute cross-training in a mistaken belief that it will help you maintain fitness. You may be able to swim or cycle more easily than run because you’ll be using somewhat different muscles, but you still need rest-rest-rest to allow all your muscles to recover. Starting to train too soon can delay that recovery. You earned this period of rest. Take it!

Thursday: Okay, you’re cleared to run again, but don’t overdo it. The Thursday workout for Novice runners the week before the marathon (Week 18 in my program) was 2 miles of gentle jogging. That sounds about right for Zero Week too. Intermediate and advanced runners might do a bit more, but see how your body feels.

Friday: Now is the time to cross-train. Swim or bike if that is your pleasure, but it’s probably not a good idea to start some new exercise you haven’t been doing the previous 18 weeks. The best cross-training discipline for a recovering marathoner is simple walking. Don’t underestimate the value of this activity. Go at most 2-3 miles.

Saturday: By now, most of the muscle soreness should be gone. You’re probably ready to resume your regular training routine, but don’t rush things. Stick with the 2- to 3-mile routine today. Or maybe take today off entirely.

Sunday: Quite often marathoners who did their long runs together in the months leading up to a marathon like to get together to rehash how they did. So call your friends and schedule a run of about an hour, 6 to 8 miles max. But don’t get competitive and push the pace too hard. Your body may feel better again, but it’s still in recovery mode.

Now that you’re through Zero Week, where do you go from here? Below are three 4-week recovery programs to get you back up to speed: one for novice, one for intermediate and one for advanced runners. I’ve included a race at the end of the tunnel to help you with motivation. After that, you’re free to pick your next training or racing goal.

Half Marathon Recovery: Running 13.1 miles generally does not tear down the body as much as does running 26.2 miles--even for novice runners. There is something about crossing the 20-miler barrier, often referred to as "The Wall," that tears us apart. Even if you are well-trained and cruise past The Wall, you will drain your muscles of all the glycogen your stored as fuel during your pre-race carbo-loading. But in a half marathon, you stop far short of The Wall. A few days of rest or easy jogging, and you should be able to resume training. In fact, most of my 18-week marathon training programs include a test half marathon around Week 8 or Week 9, and even most novices survive that test without problems.

To purchase an interactive version of Hal Higdon's Post-Marathon Training Programs, click here.

Post Marathon Training: Novice
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 2 m run 4 m run 2 m run Rest 30-60 min run Cross
2 Rest 3 m run 4 m run 3 m run Rest 45-60 min run Cross
3 Rest 4 m run 5 m run 4 m run Rest 60 min run Cross
4 Rest 5 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest Rest Race
Post Marathon Training: Intermediate
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Cross 30 min 3 m run 3 x mile (mar pace) 3 m run Rest 30 min tempo 45-75 min run
2 Cross 30-40 min 4 m run 3 x mile (10-K pace) 4 m run Rest 35 min tempo 60-90 min run
3 Cross 30-50 min 5 m run 3 x mile (5-K pace) 5 m run Rest 40 min tempo 90 min run
4 Cross 30-60 min 5 m run 30 min tempo 3 m run Rest Rest Race
Post Marathon Training: Advanced
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 3 m run 4 x 400 (5-K pace) 3 m run 3 x mile (mar pace) Rest 30 min tempo 60-75 min run
2 4 m run 6 x 400 (5-K pace) 4 m run 3 x mile (10-K pace) Rest 35 min tempo 75-90 min run
3 5 m run 8 x 400 (5-K pace) 5 m run 3 x mile (5-K pace) Rest 40 min tempo 90 min run
4 5 m run 3 x 800 (5-K pace) 5 m run 30 min tempo Rest Rest Race

Click here for the TrainingPeaks interactive 10-K programs