Most full marathon training plans will take you up to 32 to 35 kilometers for the peak long run before tapering, so for first-timers the last 10 kilometers on race day is unknown territory. How your body responds to the stress, how your mind either plays games with you or toughs it out, how your will flags or pulls you through. So much happens then, and it really does change you forever.
Then you wake up the next day, and you’ve never prepared for this!
The following are what you can expect to happen after your first marathon. It’s all completely normal for the distance you’ve done, and it does get better. Multiple-time marathoners (and ultrarunners) will tell you recovery is easier the next time around.
Expect swollen feet. Yes, feet expand when you run for long periods of time. You might find it difficult to put on your dress shoes in the week after your marathon. Flip flops and a spare set of running shoes are your best friend. Ladies, save the heels for when your legs feel normal again.
Expect sore everything. You may have already started feeling the tightness and the soreness in your legs immediately after your marathon, but getting out of bed the next morning can be especially difficult. Walking, which we usually take for granted, becomes “hobbling” just like in the London Marathon video I posted above.
Getting up or down a flight of stairs? Good luck. If you can’t hobble to an elevator, try stepping down them facing backwards to put less stress on your quads and hips. And if you’re afraid of people staring, slip on your finisher’s medal and flash it at them. :D
Expect to lose interest in running. I call it “umay“. You will definitely have had your fill of running due to the high volume you did during training and the race itself. It’s a mental thing, so give your head time to recover from the marathon as well. You’re no less a runner if you find yourself looking for other activities to stay fit. Get yourself stretched out with some yoga classes. Get on a bike. Attend some group exercise classes. You’ll come back to running sooner or later.
Expect to cringe when people use “marathon” to talk about a 5K race. Now you know the marathon is a distance you need to respect. So whenever you hear someone say, “I ran a marathon yesterday!” and you find out they ran only a 5K, you may feel an urge to 1) correct their word use; and 2) encourage them to move up the distances and target a 42K. At this point, remind yourself that running the distance you did is something most people don’t understand; only a fellow marathoner can relate.
Expect to look at yourself differently. Whatever happened during your marathon is a very personal, unique experience. You have seen right into your own soul, finding you are both weaker and stronger than you thought you were. You have endured far more than your body was designed to handle; you’ve not only survived, but you feel more fully alive. You finished a marathon! You know you can do anything you set your mind to.