Recently, the 26th Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend wrapped up, with tens of thousands of runners covering anything from 5k all the way up to 48.6 miles. And that’s just for the races — forget park time! To those of you who participated, a very special Congratulations on finishing the Marathon, Goofy, Dopey…any of the longer distance events this past weekend! Now do yourself a favor and hold down the couch for a couple of weeks, okay?

After a huge event like those at WDWMW, or really any long distance race effort it’s important to understand what your body really needs — REST AND RECOVERY.

While recovery is just as important for shorter distances like the 5k and 10k as it is for double digit miles, it just doesn’t take as much time. The effects for shorter races aren’t as long lasting. So these tips could still apply, but by now you are probably feeling pretty good if you ran 10k or less.

Okay, so let’s just say you ran the marathon — whether you ran that one race or as part of the challenges, you ran at least 26.2 miles. These tips apply to half-marathoners, but cut the times in about half. Follow these do’s and don’ts to get back to your usual routine safely and injury free.

DO take at least 3 weeks off for recovery. Some sources would say, and I think this is a good rule of thumb, to take a day in recovery for every mile you ran. Okay, while this is open to interpretation, let’s dive a little deeper by defining recovery. It’s not complete inactivity for 3 weeks, but a gradual return to pre-taper exercise levels.

DON’T do any running in the first week after your race. You might still be a bit muscle sore, but it isn’t the muscle soreness that we need to worry about. Our ligaments take longer to heal than our muscles, so it may be you feel fine, but if your ligaments are still loosey-goosey, you could increase your risk of injury later on down the line.

DO hold down the couch and catch up on rest, or if you feel you need to move, easy walking is okay in that first week. Injury prevention is the purpose, and the thing to remember about injury is that running injuries aren’t always sudden, catastrophic events. Your body breaks down over time and unless you give it that time, an injury could sideline you well into the next training cycle.

So after the first week, you might feel like running again. This is not the time to test yourself, so DON’T add any speed work this week, and DO some light, easy jogging. You might feel like you are in the worst shape of your life, even though you just ran a huge race. Yeah, that is your body trying to tell you it’s still tired! Don’t worry about that fatigue. It’s totally normal. Just stick with a solid recovery plan.

This second week can be challenging after a big event, because our runs probably still feel hard, we might be burned out a little bit, but we also may feel like we’ve lost our training groove…like we have to “get back out there.” This is normal, and if at all possible, go do the runs nice and easy, and declare victory. DON’T run hard efforts until the end of week 2, and by that I mean HIIT training, hard strength sessions, high level speed work, and long runs over 90 minutes.

Now you are into week 3, feeling great probably, but maybe a bit unmotivated? Maybe runs still feel hard. It’s at this point you DO want to listen to your body, and let it tell you what to do. If that means you are still keeping runs low mileage and slow speeds, that’s fine. You aren’t losing fitness in these weeks, you are recovering from a huge race and all the training that came before it.

A couple more points here as you are holding down the couch. Have you said this after a huge race, “Well, I just ran a marathon, I’m going to EAT ALL THE THINGS!” I know I have. While yes, you might celebrate your victory in all the ways you didn’t feel you could during training, but recovery is not the time to go on a three-week bender stuffing yourself with everything you can get your hands on. THAT will certainly compromise your recovery. Take a couple of days to celebrate, but then DO make sure you are hydrating and nourishing your body with healthy foods.

Lastly, recovery is very much a mental game, so when you feel like you are being lazy, just remember what your body just went through, and allow yourself some grace to relax. Those first few runs back might feel tough, but they won’t always. Just keep it all in perspective, be kind to yourself, and you will sail through recovery ready to crush your next goal.

The bottom line is this: recovery is PART of your training plan, not the lack of it. Rest is a weapon, recovery is a tool. If we don’t recover right or well, we are compromising our running health. So sit back and relax.

My question for you today is this: if you ran WDWMW (or any other marathons this winter), how are you feeling? Also, whether or not you were there this weekend, have you ever struggled with just relaxing into recovery?

Heather Jergensen

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