It’s been sixteen days since I crossed the finish line in the Mall in London and completed my first marathon. It was the culmination of months and months of focused effort and training to try and get my body to a place where it could cope with running 26.2 miles. It was with no little satisfaction that I was able to think about a job well done: my body is vulnerable to fatigue and secondary problems associated with my MS – loss of muscle mass, loss of flexibility in my ankles, scuffing… and so on. To have run all those miles with relatively few problems was very gratifying indeed. I started to get sore hips at around 17 miles and had deep muscle pain in my thighs for most of the second half of the course, but it was mostly manageable and wasn’t exactly unexpected. I popped a couple of paracetamol at around mile 18 and really, really enjoyed the last six miles though Westminster and down the Embankment. If “enjoyed” is the right word. Everything still hurt, but I was mentally in control and determined to enjoy the ride.
Running the marathon was completely new territory for me, but so too was what happened next. How should you recover from something like that? Lots of people reckon that you should rest for a whole day for every mile that you ran: 26 days. That doesn’t necessarily mean 26 days off running completely, but 26 days of taking things much more easily to allow your body time to recover and to allow all those tears in your muscles to heal.
I might be stubborn when it comes to exercise, but I’m not a fool. I was keen not to stop entirely, but I also wanted to keep moving. After all, I’ve learned in marathon training that one of the best ways to work stiffness out of your legs is (maybe counter-intuitively, and certainly counter to everything that your legs are screaming at you when you set off) is to go for a run. On the day after the marathon, I had extremely stiff, painful thighs and was struggling with stairs, but I still managed to go out for a very gentle two mile walk / run, and it really helped. I had a sports massage on Wednesday, and that weekend, I did a very gentle parkrun. Even over the course of a relatively steady 3 miles, it was clear that I still had stiffness in my hips and soreness deep in my thighs. Hardly surprising, really. Still, I built some swimming back into my exercise schedule, kept cycling to work and tried to keep my legs moving, including building in a bit of interval training to try and shake off marathon pace and to do a bit of speed work. Nothing too strenuous quite yet, but just to mix my routine up a bit.
I ran a bit faster at parkrun last weekend, and on Monday I attempted my longest run yet: 5.5-ish miles along the river with my running club. I’m still running quite a bit slower than I would like, but I was definitely heading in the right direction and running at a little under 8:30 minutes/mile…. Until, after about three miles, my hip flexors really began to make their presence felt and I started to labour a bit. The pain wasn’t terrible, but I can take a hint: I slowed down.
How long do you need to allow your body to recover after a marathon? Well, apparently for a little bit longer than I’m currently allowing it. Just some gentle speed interval work tomorrow then.
If I didn’t admire Eddie Izzard already for completing 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief in 2009, I now have greater insight into what an incredible achievement that was. Knowing how my legs felt the day after London, and knowing how my body is responding to running now, some sixteen days later… well, I’m in awe of him. Remarkable.
When plans change
6 days ago