Even if you’ve never trained for a marathon before, you probably have some idea that a whole load of running is going to be involved in conditioning your body for the challenge of completing 42.2km in one go. However, what both new runners and experienced marathoners often underestimate is how important recovery is during a training plan.
If you don’t allow your body time to rest between runs it can’t recover and adapt to the training you’re putting it through, meaning you’ll get more fatigued, be prone to injury and will struggle to make it through your plan. If you’re new to the sport this means taking regular days off and ensuring you’re not going hell for leather during every run. And while more experienced runners might have the capacity to run every day, they have to do a lot of that running at a very easy pace to allow their body to recover before their next tough session.
But there’s more to recovery than just the time you spend resting or running at easy pace. Regular stretching and core work are important to ensure your body is able to handle the strain of running, as are eating a healthy diet and doing everything you can to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Specialist gear like compression garments and recovery shoes can also help you bounce back after a run.
For expert advice on how to recover during marathon training we spoke to running coach and OOFOS ambassador Tom Craggs. OOFOS makes a variety of recovery shoes including flip-flops and sliders. As a brand ambassador you can expect Craggs to mention them, but we’re decidedly brand ambassadors and we use OOFOS recovery flip-flops after long runs because we think they’re ace, so have no fear that you’re getting duff advice.
1. Make sure your easy runs are easy
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to hit every run hard,” says Craggs. “That’s not the way endurance physiology works and will probably leave you really struggling to recover from the collective load of all the miles.
“Avoid hard runs on back-to-back days. Mixing hard days with easy run or rest days is the best way to train your body with a variety of intensities and also to ensure you have adequate recovery time to adapt to the harder sessions.”
2. Get enough sleep
“Sleep is your key recovery weapon,” says Craggs. “It’s great if you can get eight hours’ sleep at night but the truth is the quality of your sleep is just as important. We move through several cycles as we sleep and it’s when you are in your deep sleep that the crucial growth hormones are released.
“Keep smartphones and laptops out of the bedroom and try to avoid eating immediately before bed or drinking caffeine or alcohol late at night. A cool, dark environment and a consistent pattern of getting to bed at the same time most nights will also help you sleep better.”
3. Schedule recovery weeks into your training plan
“Progressing your training is a key element of getting fit for the marathon,” says Craggs, “but if you just view your training as ten or 16 weeks where each week gets harder than the one before, you’ll soon find it’s both mentally and physically exhausting.
“Aim to include a ‘down week’ every three to four weeks in your training. In this week you’ll slightly reduce the overall volume and cut back the long run in order to give your body the extra rest it needs to adapt and progress.”
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4. Invest in some recovery kit
There are a variety of recovery-focused running products available, the most widely used being compression socks and tights.
“Compression garments are becoming increasingly popular as a recovery aid with some research suggesting they can improve blood flow and speed recovery after hard training,” says Craggs.
After a long run it feels great to get out of your trainers, but it’s important to ensure you’re still supporting your tired feet and legs with cushioned footwear, which is when recovery shoes can be a godsend.
“You put two to three times your bodyweight through your feet each time your foot hits the ground when you run,” says Craggs. “OOFOS footwear is a fantastic option for your recovery, reducing impact when standing and walking.”
5. Fuel your recovery
“Your nutrition is clearly a critical factor in your recovery between your running sessions,” says Craggs.
“Aim to get some fuel back into your body within 15 to 30 minutes of finishing a session. A combination of three to four parts carbohydrate, one part protein is a great mix and most people prefer it in liquid form like a shake. Refuelling quickly after a session will speed up your recovery and is particularly important if you are training most days.”
6. Be flexible with your training schedule
“Runners can have a tendency to become slaves to their training plans,” says Craggs. “The truth is life throws things at most of us that have a serious impact on our ability to recover. Sometimes you just need to accept this and adapt the plan.
“If you are going through a particularly stressful period at work or home you might need to reduce the loading of your training plan. Chronic stress will probably have a big impact on your ability to recover, and extra rest days or a lighter week might make all the difference.”
7. Don’t neglect your mental downtime
“The ability to relax mentally as well as physically should play a big part in all recovery plans, but most of us completely neglect the mind,” says Craggs.
“During training ensure you have time set aside to relax with family and friends – perhaps some with no involvement in running at all! If you want to go a step further, regular meditation practice has been shown to significantly improve your recovery and performance at times of high stress.”
8. Little things can make a big difference
“For most athletes the key to recovering well is never down to one single factor – the best at recovery are those who frequently get the little things right,” says Craggs.
“Get into a good routine and a habit of daily stretching, and complete a simple core exercise routine two to three times a week. Snack well between meals and ensure you have a warm, dry set of clothes to change into quickly if you’re training in cold, wet conditions.”
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.