Run a marathon at the week­end? Con­grat­u­la­tions. So, what now?

Many first-timers may feel lost but the key is to em­brace the new­found week­end free­dom

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Mary Jen­nings

To all the run­ners and walk­ers who com­pleted the SSE Air­tric­ity Dublin Marathon at the week­end, I hope you are still buzzing from the at­mos­phere of the day and the enor­mity of your achieve­ments. If it was your first marathon I would like to wel­come you to the marathon club. It’s a great place to be even if your marathon day didn’t go ex­actly to plan.

This time last week you had no idea if you could com­plete the dis­tance and now you have. A weight has lifted and some­thing changes within you once you cross that fin­ish line. You are now a marathoner. Con­grat­u­la­tions.

In these early days fol­low­ing the event you are prob­a­bly keen to chat to any­one who will lis­ten to your marathon ex­pe­ri­ence. As a first-timer you may even carry your medal with pride and be tempted to go for a run just so you can show off your new marathon T-shirt. Friends and fam­ily are proud and im­pressed to hear the de­tails of your ex­ploits.

The vast ar­ray of pho­tos, race re­ports and me­dia cov­er­age in these post-marathon days keeps the marathon at­mos­phere alive long af­ter the race is over. En­joy these few days be­cause by the end of this week the world will have moved on to the next big thing and your marathon will no longer be cen­tre of con­ver­sa­tion, even if it is all you wish to talk about. As your legs re­turn to nor­mal, you also need to be pre­pared to move your head on from the marathon mind­set.

The first-timer marathon ex­pe­ri­ence was once de­scribed to me as be­ing akin to plan­ning a wed­ding. You in­vest an in­cred­i­ble amount of time, re­search, plan­ning and en­ergy into build­ing a per­fect day. Your en­tire fo­cus is cen­tred around this one day to the ex­tent that many other as­pects of your life take a back seat for months. It is hard to switch off from the main event as all con­ver­sa­tion seems to be cen­tred around one thing in the lead-up.

‘Hon­ey­moon pe­riod’

Even­tu­ally the day ar­rives and it passes with a few un­ex­pected ups and downs. You cel­e­brate, you are the cen­tre of at­ten­tion and get in­un­dated with com­pli­ments. You then wake up the next day and it is all over. There is no more plan­ning to be done. The train­ing plan is com­plete.

While in the­ory we then move into the “hon­ey­moon pe­riod” in the weeks af­ter the marathon and should be en­joy­ing some rest, re­cov­ery and rem­i­nisc­ing, many run­ners find it very dif­fi­cult to switch from train­ing mode to re­lax­ing mode. Our lives have be­come so con­sumed with run­ning, fu­elling and in­jury pre­ven­tion that the lack of struc­ture and end goal leaves many run­ners a lit­tle lost. There is a gap in the weekly rou­tine. Any­one who has been part of a group or shared miles and sto­ries with other run­ners on their marathon jour­ney will par­tic­u­larly no­tice the change. Marathon train­ing was our so­cial life but no longer are the week­end dates be­ing ar­ranged.

If you do feel at a loss with­out the marathon struc­ture, please don’t rush into book­ing a new race too soon. Re­mem­ber there is life out­side of run­ning too. Think of the peo­ple or the hob­bies and pos­si­bly even jobs that got post­poned over the last few months and shifted now your pri­or­ity list. Could you in­vest a lit­tle time in those now be­fore you get back fo­cused on your run­ning again?

I ad­vise all of my stu­dents to re­spect the marathon and all the months of ef­fort, in­vest­ment and time that has gone into the prepa­ra­tion. In­deed, it is sad to say good­bye to the weekly meet-ups and on­line ban­ter, but for many there will be many more days ahead. First though, the body will be in much bet­ter shape for a new run­ning year in Jan­uary if time is taken out now to let it catch up with it­self.

From a prac­ti­cal per­spec­tive, we need to re­mem­ber how much the marathon takes out of us phys­i­cally and men­tally. Whether the 26 miles took you three hours or seven hours to com­plete, our mus­cles, cells, joints and im­mune sys­tem have been work­ing over­time for many months now. We need to re­plen­ish our re­serves and treat our body to good food, rest but also keep mov­ing gen­tly. By mov­ing I don’t re­ally mean run­ning. Walk­ing, swim­ming, yoga or any­thing that helps you feel good would be ideal for these early re­cov­ery stages. In­deed easy run­ning can come back into our rou­tine very grad­u­ally but don’t try to break any records. The more you let the body re­cover now and build again grad­u­ally, the less likely you will over train, get in­jured, ill or lose mo­ti­va­tion.

If you are al­ready look­ing at spring marathon cal­en­dars, please slow down. I be­lieve that any first-timer marathoner should wait an­other year be­fore putting their body though the emo­tional and phys­i­cal roller­coaster that the marathon is. In­deed, ex­pe­ri­enced marathon­ers know their body bet­ter and can man­age con­sec­u­tive marathons but give your­self time to know your marathon body be­fore you chase the next medal.

From a prac­ti­cal per­spec­tive, we need to re­mem­ber how much the marathon takes out of us phys­i­cally and men­tally

Even the best ath­letes in the world take time off af­ter a big event. If you are feel­ing dis­ap­pointed that your train­ing or race day didn’t go to plan and you feel like you have un­fin­ished busi­ness it can be tempt­ing to book a race quite soon. Be sen­si­ble and your first step should be to take time to take to as­sess what did work, what didn’t and what you should/would do next time to make sure you have a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence.

With your new­found week­end free­dom, there are other ways to fill your marathon time be­tween now and Christ­mas. Think of all the peo­ple who sup­ported you through your marathon jour­ney and all the sac­ri­fices oth­ers made for you. Now is your time to pay them back. Ar­range to meet oth­ers for events that are not based around run­ning.

Mem­o­ries of the day You can keep the marathon spirit alive by ar­rang­ing reg­u­lar meet-ups with your marathon bud­dies. I sug­gest a monthly parkrun and a cuppa. This will keep you mov­ing through the win­ter. Vol­un­teer, walk or jog but don’t place too high ex­pec­ta­tions on your­self. It is okay to take a com­pete break from run­ning too. In­deed there is plenty of life out­side of run­ning. In a few weeks’ time you may in fact wonder how you ever made time for long runs.

Fi­nally, the best thing you can do to make the marathon a long-term mem­ory is to take a lit­tle time out to write down all your mem­o­ries of the day. They may seem crys­tal clear now but will be­come vague soon. Should you ever wish to pop on your marathon shoes again it is a great bonus to read your race re­port and lessons learnt on the day. Although I know some of you are cur­rently say­ing “never again”, I bet in a few weeks you might be chang­ing your mind. Marathon run­ning is strangely ad­dic­tive.

Watch out.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: OISIN KENIRY/INPHO

Run­ners pass through Phoenix Park dur­ing last year’s Dublin marathon.

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