Your marathon’s done … what’s next?
As you hit the finish line of your marathon, you probably felt some mix of achievement, pride, relief, and, of course, fatigue. Months and miles of preparation culminated in your race and that may leave you feeling a little lost on your next steps. Staring at a blank page instead of a training log can be tough!
Just as your marathon training requires planning and preparation, what comes after the marathon should be given careful thought, as well.
That includes the physical aspects the night of the race: eating well, rehydrating (before the beer, at least), compression gear, some massage/foam roller work, and of course a good night’s sleep.
But it also includes how you approach the rest of year:
Get back into training carefully
After all the work your body has put in during the training for the marathon, it’s important to take your time getting back into serious training. Both your body and your mind will need the break before you can can tackle serious training again.
I like to recommend a minimum of four weeks gradually getting back into training:
• Week 1: Short, easy runs every few days (~25% of your normal mileage)
• Week 2: Slight increases to distances, but still all easy running. Add in some light strides after your runs to maintain the range of motion in your legs (no more than ~50% of normal mileage)
• Week 3: Can begin to make one run more of a “long run” even though it will pale in comparison to the long runs you were doing during marathon training (no more than ~75% of normal mileage)
• Week 4: Can reach normal mileage again and can begin to work in light base-building workouts
If you have time before you need to start training seriously for your next goal, I think it can be beneficial to repeat each week in the program I listed above, making for an 8 week return to full training. I would especially advocate for this approach if during your marathon training you were dealing with a good deal of nagging injuries or riding the line of mental burnout.
This time is also a great time to work things into your routine that you may have been neglecting during marathon training, like:
• Strength training
• Trail running
Mixing up your usual routine can keep things exciting and help the “I should be doing more!!” thought from taking over.
Evaluate / Plan
During those weeks that you’re building your training back up is a great time to look back at the season you just completed and take stock:
• What went well?
• What you can improve?
• What did you learn during the training season — both about yourself and about running?
Answering these questions will help you continue to fine-tune and improve your training for future races. Do you need to focus more on long runs to improve your late-race endurance? Would more tune-up races have given you a better idea of a goal race pace for the marathon? Maybe you need to find a training partner to push you on speed workouts.
Taking the time to look back now will give you time to get the pieces in place for a more successful training season next time.
Decide on your next steps
Once you’ve evaluated what you need to improve on, it’s time to decide how you’re going to do that. I try to very rarely be a shill for my services, but this is where having an experienced coach’s viewpoint can be extremely helpful.
As runners we tend to get into ruts and there is a tendency to do things the way you always do them. Having someone provide a fresh set of eyes and an outside perspective is a great way to get an objective, big-picture view of where you’re at with your running and what it would take to reach future goals.
There are two main principles/questions that I encourage you to keep in mind as you’re planning your next steps:
1. The body likes variety
Doing the same training, or even the same type of training, over and over again will cause your body and your performances to plateau. It’s important to change some variables with your training: mileage, long runs, workout structure, paces, etc. Some of that may be limited by your job, life schedule, etc. but think about the areas that you can adjust and mix it up going forward.
The most drastic example of this approach is to spend a season focusing on 5k/10k training following a season of marathon training. I think this is a great way to make sure that your body is experiencing new challenges and will provide the raw tools to handle marathon training at faster paces the next time you cycle back around to it.
2. What’s the next logical step?
This is the number one question to ask as you plot out your training, and it goes hand-in-hand with the need to mix things up. For beginning runners, the answer is often more mileage or adding in more speed work. For more experienced runners looking to improve, the answer may be more complex and could include becoming a better athlete, finding ways to more closely mimic the demands of the race, or killing some sacred cows in your training to get to the next level.
These are big, important questions to think about as you look ahead from your marathon. Take the time to follow this process carefully now and it will pay off in a big way in the fall!
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, and Competitor and is a regular contributor to Running Times.