Ask-a-Salty: Harnessing the Post-Marathon Bounce

Got questions? Just ask!
Got questions? Just ask!

Ask-a-Salty is the feature where you tell us what you want to read. If you have a question for the Salty Bloggers visit the “Ask-a-Salty” tab above the banner or go here.

Today’s brilliant question comes from Michelle:

I’m thinking ahead … I’d like to train for a sub-20 5k after Boston. I plan to take 2-3 weeks off of training and then jump back into marathon training at the beginning of July. What should I focus on for the month of May? Short track repeats? Mile repeats?

Great question, Michelle!

First things first, you will need to recover from Boston. That race is going to thrash your poor innocent legs, but a week off of running and some ginger stair descents should go a long way to getting you ready to start your next training segment. After the week off, do some short easy fun runs the next week. Nothing crazy, just enjoy yourself. A good rule of thumb is to limit mileage to the amount of miles you ran the week before your marathon. The following week after that, I would still keep easy, but maybe do a longer run over the weekend, 8 – 10 miles or so. The fourth week out from the race, I’d keep the same amount of miles as the previous week, but add in some strides and if you’re feeling good a very moderate short tempo during one run. For more info on marathon recovery, go here!

English: Bouncing Ball - bad animation example
A little post ‘thon recovery and … BOING!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s super cool, is that if you recover well you might expect to get a marathon bounce. What this means is that all that marathon training and the race itself give you a boost in fitness that you only achieve once you’ve properly recovered. By the fifth week out you should feel good and ready to train to take advantage of the bounce! This will be mid-May for you. I would plan to keep your miles moderate, maybe 60 – 75% of your marathon peak mileage.

If you want to sharpen that aerobic fitness for a 5k race before your next marathon training cycle, I would do one workout a week focusing on intervals ranging from 3k – 5k pace. You can use a pace equivalent calculator like the McMillan Calculator to estimate the right paces. I would do some short reps, like 300s – 600s at 3k pace with longer rest (2:00 – 3:00). I would limit the actual amount of fast running on the track to about 8% of your weekly mileage (e.g. If you’re running 30 mpw, then limit the intervals to about 2.5 miles, which would be 10 400s). Most runners, except for the very advanced, should probably cap their fast paced intervals at 3 miles. For 5k pace, I’d do 800s – 1000s with slightly shorter rest (~2:00). The faster than 5k paced reps will activate your fast-twitch muscles and get you working on turn-over. They will also make 5k pace not feel insane, which it might after the relatively slow marathon pace work you were doing! The 5k paced reps will then drill in that pace and is quick enough to activate the fast twitch muscles and get your legs turning over, as well. Plus, the longer reps will train you to focus.

You should also continue doing a weekly tempo, but I’d make it a little faster and break it up. This will make it a little more challenging and fun (right!?) after all those longer, relatively slower tempos you were probably doing for marathon training. An example would be to do 2 x 2 at 15k – 10 mile race pace with 2:00 – 3:00 rest in between sets. Alternatively, you could do 4 x 1 mile with 1:00 rest at the same pace. I would keep the tempo under 12% of your weekly mileage.

Lastly continue doing a long run each week of at least 90 minutes to maintain aerobic capacity and maintain endurance which is necessary to run your best in the 5k. Continuing to do a long run will help ease the transition back to marathon training when the time comes.

That’s what I would do in your shoes, anyway.

Anyone else have any ideas for bouncing back from a marathon to PR in a 5k? Have you ever experienced a marathon bounce?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I have often noticed that bounce that happens. About a month after the marathon, I’m out for a run, and I just get that feeling I could beat my time if I could re-run the whole thing. All of this has made me ponder a one month taper.

    1. I think the actual marathon has a lot to do with that bounce. There’s the training and then that super long hard run that is the marathon race. I’ve bounced back from a couple of my marathons to big shorter PRs. I ran my first sub-20 5k about 5 weeks after my first marathon and then my first sub-1:30 half marathon a month after I ran Boston. If you asked me before the marathon if I’d come back and achieve those two things I would have laughed at you, but there’s something magical about that bounce when it happens 🙂

  2. I echo Salty’s answer, but add a warning: sometimes you recover faster than others after marathons. In my experience, as you learn to race harder and put it all out there for your marathon, it can take longer to recover. So you really may not be ready to go for a bounce because you need more time. I know if took me a good 2 months to recover from Chicago (I’m also an older runner, but that is another story). Anyway, both times I ran Boston, my legs were thrashed due to all the downhill and uphill. So if you are able to bounce back and go for a PR, great. If you need more time, be kind to yourself and take it. Recovery should be the #1 goal; a bounce 5k PR is icing on the cake in my opinion.

    1. All excellent points! I have not experienced a bounce every time. I started training too soon after my last ‘thon and was majorly burned out in 2007 after my fall race training overlapped with wedding planning. Yes, recovery first and then look for the bounce if it is there. If not, well, maybe next time 🙂