Mint’s Marathon Tips: What to Expect When your Marathon is Over

Owning that finish line!

Don’t think for a second we don’t still have marathons on the brain here at Salty Running! On Sunday, Clove and her husband are busy prepping to host a sold-out crowd at the Columbus Marathon, including our very own Vanilla who will be racing the half!  And then two weeks later Sassafras will toe the line for her big sub-4 attempt at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Indeed, Detroit, Marine Corps, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond and California International are just a few of the many big races yet to take place this fall.

It’s been a week and a half since I crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon, my 14th marathon. I have to say, a great race or a bad one, there’s nothing like crossing that line and putting all that hard work behind us!

We train for months and months for our our goal marathon. But what starts happening to us at that moment we cross the finish line?

You may be surprised.  

So today we offer some tips for what to expect after your goal marathon is over.

The result.  You have been focusing on your goal throughout your training cycle and during the entire race.  Now, the result is raw, real and over.  Did you nail it?  Did you just fall short?  Did you crash and burn?  You may be surprised how strongly you feel about it.  You will likely be absolutely ecstatic or seriously devastated. Don’t be surprised by tears no matter what the result.
[pullquote] But no worries – this is an acute pain only a tiny percentage of the world ever experiences so enjoy it![/pullquote]

The legs.  Particularly if you raced it and you are just stopping for the first time in a few hours, um, it hurts.  Holy cow, it actually really, really hurts.  Your legs didn’t hurt when you were running, but walking is pure torture after running 26.2 hard.  Keep moving as active recovery is important.  It is probably going to really hurt for 2 days following the marathon.  Don’t expect to feel like you did after your 20 mile training run if your race pace was significantly faster.  But no worries – this is an acute pain only a tiny percentage of the world ever experiences so enjoy it!

The lungs.  Your chest and ribs may really hurt too.  You may take a deep breath and feel like your lungs are bruised.  It’s okay, they’ve just been working overtime, but it can kind of freak you out if you aren’t expecting it.

Nothing feels better than a race well run – but this may HURT in a few hours.

The feet.  Are you blistered?  Use more BodyGlide next time.  Hurty toenail?  That bad boy is probably going to turn black and fall off.  A few days after the race, use a sterilized needle and drain the blister under the nail.  It will relieve the pressure (and fully freak your kids/spouse out – the entertainment value in that is quite great).  Next season reevaluate your shoe choices and make sure to tell the salesperson at the running store about the blisters or black toenails to hopefully avoid these problems in your next race.

The food.  You’ll be inundated with water, Gatorade, power bars, bananas, bagels, cookies, beer right after you cross the line.  Take in some sports drink and food (I prefer a banana and something with carbs).  Start replenishing your body ASAP.  After you have some nutrition (and only after that), start sipping on that beer.

The hug. Hopefully you have some friends and family meeting you at the finish.  You’ll be so happy to see them and so glad they were there for you with your journey – no matter what the result. There may be more tears here.

A shiny new PR always evokes post-race smiles

The letdown.  Many people feel a bit let down or depressed in the days and weeks post race EVEN if you had a great race.  The truth is, you’ve been focusing so hard on this race for months – BUT now what?!  Don’t worry about it.  Take some time to recover, reflect on your race, and then pick a new goal.  A new focus can cure (or even divert) any post-race blues.

The lessons.  You’ll go over your race and training in your head and you’ll likely be thinking about the next one before too long.  You know you can improve and you have some ideas.  Harness this energy in a positive way.  I encourage you to write a race report.  If you decide to do this again, you WILL want to remember the finer details.

The recovery.  Now is the time to recover.  Take a week off,  take a month off if you want.  You need some down time before you start training again.

The sleep.  This is my favorite part!  Since you aren’t getting up early to run or fitting in late evening runs, you have more time.  Get some ZZZs and enjoy your down time.

What else?  Do you have any post-finish line advice or experiences?  If so, please share!

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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11 comments

  1. Make a goal for another race ASAP. At least for me, if I don’t have a plan for my next race, I fall easily into a pit of non-motivation & can actually feel a bit depressed. I love the recovery period because it is nice to take a training break and give your body some much needed rest. But, having a goal or race to look forward to makes jumping into training that much easier.

    1. I totally agree! It has been really strange for me right now because I don’t yet have another goal or goal race in mind. Usually I have the next one lined up before I even start my race. Thankfully I am meeting with my coach next week to get working on that. The good news is I am not yet feeling down since I am still elated from Chicago and am fully enjoying my recovery (read: slacking).

  2. Everyone is different, but I have found that after significant long runs (more than 20 miles), or marathon efforts, I generally feel pretty good in three or four days. In fact, I really WANT to get out for a run. It feels good doing it, and usually day 4 and 5 can have some great runs. But at least at my age (and regardless of age for some people), I have hit the reset button and restarted too soon. The advice above to take a week off is VERY good advice. No matter how good you feel…take a week off.

    Don’t. Run. A. Step. For. A. Week.

    I’ve restarted too soon nearly every time (I’m a REALLY slow learner), and I always find that two weeks after the marathon I have developed a chronic injury, usually a strain in a muscle or a ligament issue that hangs on for 5 to 10 weeks.

    This time, I’m going to take the week off. Nothing more than very gentle walks to keep the blood flowing and clear out the debris. Then my plan is to start back slowly.

    Your mileage may vary, but I for one will err on the side of caution. Running injured for long periods of time is just no fun.

    1. So true. I actually ran twice during the week after the marathon, but kept it very short and easy. I have also done very little this week and I can tell my legs are still not ready for any significant amount of work yet. My experience is that you really have to listen to your body in the month after the marathon. Sometimes you bounce back quickly, sometimes it takes a lot longer.

  3. Well said, Mindi!!
    I agree. The best thing to do post race after you re-evaluate and bask in your glory is to sign up for your next one.

    One important thing, though.
    Don’t just sit.
    Immediately following the race and the day or two after, get moving!
    YOu NEED to flush out all the lactic acid in those muscles.
    SImple things like air squats, walking lunges, sit ups, push ups and maybe even kettle bell swings VERY EASY AND SLOW are great for cleaning out the junk.
    You will feel a ton better and your road to recovery will be smooth and fast.

    We have also found the recovery boots. They are a pressurized system that you wear on your legs while propped up on a couch or chair. 20 minutes and all the junk in your legs is pretty much gone. We wore them immediately following Ironman NYC and didn’t have any muscle soreness! HIghly recommend them.

    Good luck in all your future endeavors!!

    1. Thanks Carlene! I totally agree with you on the keep moving part too. I went to work Monday after Chicago and it was brutal sitting behind my desk all day. I made sure to get up several times to walk around and took a walk in the evening. Good luck to you too!

  4. Great post, and it’s good timing for me! I usually take at least a full week off running. Sometimes I’ve done one week of no workouts (other than walking and normal daily activity), then one week of cross training. I try to follow that rule of thumb, take a day off for every mile you raced, but I get so antsy!

    Also… if you get a pedicure, they will paint where your toenail SHOULD have been. Just putting that out there.

  5. Thank you – this has made me feel a lot better about the 26 miles coming up post my longest training run a couple of days ago which has left me with some quite painful lungs!