November 8, 2022

Marathon Training: Best Recovery Practices

If you want to run a fast marathon, you must keep training and recovery in balance. In this article, we share what you can do to maximise your recovery and performance.

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Go out and run for two hours.

When you get back, you’ll be tired, tight, dehydrated, and low in glycogen. Take a five-minute break to have a snack, drink a glass of water, and then do it again. You’ll be even more exhausted and broken down.

That’s what training does; it breaks you down.

Training is only powerful when properly structured and balanced with adequate recovery.

Performance = training + recovery.

How To Recover Between Marathon Training Sessions

When most runners think about recovery, they think about sleep, nutrition, and modalities like massage, stretching, etc. These are all required, and we’ll get to them shortly, but so is setting up your training to maximise your chances of recovery between sessions.

Let’s start there.

Structural Recovery (Training Periodisation)

Following a structured training plan is essential if you want to perform to your potential. Well-structured plans are suitable for your fitness level, progressive, and carefully balance load and recovery – session to session, week to week, and season to season.

Train By Time
In my experience, training by time rather than distance (especially during aerobic training) is an effective way to do the work while setting yourself up for recovery.

Time responds to various things like fatigue, weather, and terrain. Distance is fixed. 10km is 10km regardless of how you feel, headwinds or hills.

When you train by time and stress is greater (you run a hilly course, for example), you will cover less distance. When stress is lower, you cover more. That’s fine. It’s the work and consistency, not the distance, that matters.

Train At The Correct Intensities
Throughout your marathon preparation, you’ll need to mix aerobic and anaerobic training to condition your body for the demands of the event.

Many runners I meet do too much of their training at intensities that are generally too high. This is a big problem because it compromises recovery and limits your physiological response to training.

Knowing your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and using training zones (or a percentage of threshold) is vital for improving fitness and recovering effectively between sessions.

It’s also beneficial to use a mix of heart rate and pace to guide your training. Train with heart rate as your guide for low-intensity training and pace or perceived effort for high-intensity training.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Essential Recovery

With your training thoughtfully structured, the two essential things you should focus on outside of training are sleep and nutrition.

Plenty of high-quality sleep helps your body repair and recover between sessions. Unfortunately, many athletes don’t place enough emphasis on sleep and will often sacrifice it in favour of training, work, or other commitments.

We all have twenty-four hours in a day. If you want to perform well in life and training, I encourage you to prioritise your sleep.

What you feed yourself matters, as does when you eat.

Minimally processed whole foods help to nourish your body with vitamins and minerals, keep inflammation levels low, and provide you with plenty of energy to fuel your training and racing.

Avoid foods that are energy-dense yet provide little nutritional value. White bread, pasta, cereal, and candy are all examples of those foods.

Instead, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, some fruit, grass-fed meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, millet, and quinoa – real foods.

Supplementary Recovery

If you’re not getting enough sleep or are eating junk food, using the following recovery modalities is a bit like putting a bandaid over a gunshot wound. They won’t work very effectively.

If you are sleeping and eating as you should, the practices below could help accelerate your recovery and help you feel great in each training session.

Track Heart Rate Variability Or Resting Heart Rate
While not useful on their own, measuring your heart rate variability (HRV) and resting heart rate can provide some valuable insight into how your body is recovering. When paired with subjective factors like muscle soreness, motivation to train, and mood, these metrics can help you decide whether to train as planned or ease off.

Stretching And Myofascial Release
Regular stretching, foam rolling, or using a massage gun daily will help reduce muscle soreness and keep your muscles supple and in good condition.

Regular massage helps to flush the byproducts produced during training from your body and can improve your mobility while keeping your muscles feeling good.

Compression socks and recovery boots may help to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery by reducing swelling and improving circulation in your feet and legs.

There are many other modalities that you can try, too, like contrast therapy, for instance. Before that, focus on structuring your training properly, sleeping plenty, and eating well.

Those are the things that will truly move the needle and enhance your recovery and performance.

If you’d like help structuring your training to optimise your recovery, why not try a 14-day free trial of Coached? We’ll set up a training plan for you and arrange a 15-minute coach call.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.