Adapting to life on the other side of the marathon
Many first-timers may feel lost but the key is to embrace the newfound weekend freedom
Runners passing through Kilmainham during the 2018 SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
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 start to 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie