Mississauga Marathon, Part III: Rest, Recovery, Reflections

Sam sent me an article reporting on a study that found that the farther a marathon is behind you, the less you remember the pain. Entitled “That Marathon Was More Painful Than You Remember,” the article reports that runners have short term memory:

A new study published in the journal Memory may explain how limping runners in the finisher’s chute go from “never again” to “sign me up!”  The author, Przemyslaw Babel, polled 62 runners in Poland on their perceived pain level immediately after finishing a marathon. He then split the participants into two groups, asking 32 participants the same question three months later, and 30 participants six months later.

The findings show the more time that’s passed after a marathon, the less pain runners remember feeling.

“The major finding of this study is that pain induced by running a marathon is not remembered accurately,” the study says.

I’m not six months out from the Mississauga Marathon, which wasn’t exactly painful but was most certainly a grueling ordeal that I’m not keen to repeat. See my report on how I suffered through it here.

But I’m already re-writing history where Around the Bay is concerned. That too was a tough slog, yet the other day I told someone it had been “fun.”  Not so according to my race report.

But back to the marathon. So far I have had no desire to sign up for another one.  Rest and recovery have been high up on my list of priorities for the past week. Often I just gesture at post-event rest or do it because I’m supposed to. But post-marathon, I really needed it.

The marathon recovery week last week coincided with one of the biggest changes of my life in recent years: Renald retired and left town to go live out his dream of full-time cruising on our new sailboat.  He’s not gone for a few weeks or months. He has literally moved away from London, Ontario and is at the moment somewhere between George Town in the Bahamas and Annapolis, Maryland. More specifically, the last coordinates reported to me a couple of hours ago had him and the two friends doing this leg with him at N34.22 W75.35, making good progress now that they no longer need to worry about the unusually early tropical storm Ana.

Marathons are emotionally draining anyway. Add to that your partner leaving (even if it’s for an exciting adventure), and it makes for a weepy, exhausting week. So that’s what I had last week.

I don’t know what a good recovery plan looks like other than that it involves cross-training. I had a short easy swim the day after to “kick out my legs” as Gabbi, my coach, put it. Then with Renald about to leave and me being too tired anyway, I skipped my regular swim session on Tuesday. I drove him to the aiport shuttle bus at 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning. When I got home I tossed and turned and cried a bit.  I probably had about 3 hours of sleep that night.  So far, the rest part of “rest and recovery” from the marathon wasn’t going all that well.

We had great weather but I couldn’t even contemplate pedaling my bike, so I didn’t even cycle to work that day. Sam and I met up to do some writing that morning. She urged me to go home after lunch, which I begrudgingly did. There would be no working out after the nap.

Then I went on a little road trip and Gabbi gave me the go-ahead to take an easy 30 minutes along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.  It felt good to have permission to go slow — I’m slow anyway, and yes, I can go even slower!  I did quite a bit of walking in Ottawa and my feet and legs hurt in a way that they normally wouldn’t. Marathon legs still, almost a week later? Maybe.

I finally had a decent night of sleep on Saturday and then again on Sunday.  That’s what my marathon recovery program has looked like so far.

It’s given me a lot of time to reflect, and I’m leaning towards not feeling all that keen to do it again.  It’s pretty much sealed the deal on my never ever even contemplating a full distance triathlon (Ironman).  And it’s made me really happy with the half marathon and Olympic distance triathlons. In other words, my happy place is between 2 and 4 hours.  After that, not so much.

The other thing that’s weighing negatively for me is how disruptive marathon training is to a regular training schedule, especially when you’re trying to fit in other things. First of all, you’ve got that darned taper week where you feel like you’re hardly doing anything.

Then it’s race day — a draining adventure of its own. And the next thing you know you’re in your rest and recovery period, which on some plans spans four weeks.

This article by Jeff Guadette on “The Importance of Recovery after a Marathon” says,

One of the biggest mistakes marathon runners make is not taking enough recovery time after finishing the race. After 26.2 miles of hard running, and the months of dedicated training that went into that effort, the body needs a break.

He considers at least 7-10 days of post-marathon rest is necessary in order to allow the body to repair from the damage a marathon does to ligaments, tendons, muscles, as well as cellular damage and a compromised immune system. And yet some runners are hesitant to take the requisite period of rest:
It’s not hard to persuade a runner that a marathon is difficult on the body. However, it’s quite another to convince the same runner that taking 7 to 10 days off to rest up and recover from their effort won’t hurt their fitness.
Here’s what he recommends, and you can go the article for a detailed recovery plan:
Most coaches and elite runners suggest you should take off one week off after a marathon, with a few very light jogs or even easy walks if you get too antsy. After a week off, training should be very light for two weeks post-race. It might sound like you would be holding yourself back by being so cautious, but your long-term progression will actually benefit as you allow your body to recover and get fully rested for your next training segment.

If that’s right, then I should still be in light training mode, with some short, easy runs and cross-training.  I’m doing it because so far I haven’t had much choice, but I have to say, the whole thing is a big disruption to my routine.

And I love routine.  My marathon training interfered with my long runs with Anita on Sundays for a few weeks before and now a few weeks after the marathon. Between that and the taper/rest-recovery cycle, it really compromises the training. I think I’ve started to value my training as an end-in-itself, just part of my week that gives me joy.

When a big event throws that off, then I have to ask myself what the point of it all is in the first place. I also find it alarming that a marathon requires such recovery. As a friend mentioned to me and the Gaudette article confirms, you’re essentially injured after a marathon and the body needs to heal.

So I’m taking care of myself but I want to do more. I’m going swimming tomorrow morning and I think I want to go to the track running training session tomorrow night.  If I’m ever going to improve my 10K I need to get cracking.

One positive thing that came out of the marathon is that it helped me recognize how comfortable I am with the half marathon distance. I like it a lot. Between that, my 10K, and the Olympic distance triathlon, I’ve got enough to keep my busy without having to endure another marathon any time soon..

If anyone hears me talking about signing up for another full marathon, please refer me back to this post and my race report so I can refresh my memory of how I really felt before the six-month amnesia sets in.
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