Learning to run: Life beyond 26.2

When I was working on passing the crazy Master’s exam I took during my second year in graduate school, I spent what felt like every waking moment studying.  I prepared for that exam from about June or July the year before I took them until the following April.  I passed with what one of my professors called “the flyingest of colors”.  And then I got totally depressed.  I had so much spare time, no obligations, and absolutely no purpose whatsoever.  For me, nothing could be worse.

Depression after a marathon is similar.  You spend quite a bit of time preparing for the race–training, thinking about it, tweaking your eating habits, making sure everything will be perfect the day you run your 26.2 miles.  Even if, like me, you wish in retrospect that you had trained harder, chances are that you still devoted a lot of your time and energy to the marathon.  And once it’s over, you feel like you have nowhere to go.  It can be difficult to deal with.  I’d say with about 95% confidence that I’m the midst of one of those post-marathon depressions right now.  Doing a little bit of research into the subject, I was surprised that there may be a biochemical explanation for the after-race blues:

It has been documented that choline, a neurotransmitter precursor, is depleted with marathon-like efforts. Perhaps marathon efforts impact neurotransmitters, thereby having a bearing on depression in a similar way.

(Source)

That’s both interesting and good to know.  But I don’t think my problem is neurotransmitter-related, I think it has more to do with the fact that even though I’ve been running for years, I’m not entirely sure that I really know how to do it.  I mean, obviously I know how to put one foot in front of the other, and I understand the basics.  But I don’t really know how to train for maintenance, without a specific race in mind.  I would really like to establish a base mileage that will allow me to transition into my next marathon training period with a lot less difficulty than I had this past time.  Ideally, I would do weekly long runs of 8-10 miles, maybe as much as 13, depending.  I’m nervous, though, about not having an actual plan.  I do well with plans and structure.  I don’t do quite as well when things are free-form and open-ended.  It turns out I’m not alone:

all too often, runners plan their premarathon training and race-day activities in great detail, but they fail to plan for the hours and days and weeks after the marathon. It’s almost as though, once the marathon is completed, they lose their running focus.

(Source)

The solution, then?  Well, focus.  Obviously.  And that’s why I was very happy to find this.  Structure!  A plan of some kind!  A chart to look at that will tell me what to do and when to do it!  I’m irrationally nervous that in the past two weeks that I’ve spent not running, I have lost a lot of fitness (I also feel like I’ve gained fifteen pounds.  I never claimed I was not very susceptible to emotions and completely, 100% logical), so I like the idea of starting with something that will build me back up.  If I follow this plan, I’ll be running about 9-10 miles by the end of the four weeks, which will put me where I want to be in terms of long run distance.  So, post-marathon goal number 1?  Check.

Post-marathon goal number 2, also related to establishing a solid base mileage, is to run between 25 and 30 miles a week initially, and work on getting closer to between 30 and 35.  Toward the end of this program, I should be in the 25-30 mile range.  Check once again.

Now this is not to say that I really have any idea what my running will look like once I’ve worked my way through the next month.  The good news is, though, that now that I have this plan to work with, I also have another month to figure it out.  Ultimately I’m aiming for a well-rounded training program, so I’m planning on looking into what a standard week in running should look like, how I should split my mileage up, what sort of paces I should be working with, etc.  Research, ahoy!

 

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4 comments

  1. Hooray! I was going to suggest Hal Higdon or Jeff Galloway, they both have numerous training plans, something for just about anybody. Have fun!

  2. i completely agree about the post-marathon blues. it’s nice to have a few days off, but then you get that ‘itch’ again. it’s important to “not train” (or at least, not “seriously” train) so that you don’t injure yourself or burn out, but you can definitely have a “maintenance” training plan. for me, i just have a goal mileage for each week and it’s nice to have the flexibility to switch up runs if i want (since i’m not training for anything). but yeah, i roughly have a spreadsheet telling me how many miles i need to run that day 🙂

  3. This couldn’t speak truer to what I am experiencing right now. I ran a marathon 1 month ago, and I haven’t had very much motivation at all to get back out there. Your post really helps me feel so much better, and was actually very comforting to know that this is normal! You are so right about how we spend so much time in life preparing for BIG GOALS (e.g., masters exams, marathons, college graduation, etc.), but we hardly never focus on what happens when the big event is over! We are left to “figure it out” on our own, which can be very challenging! This was honestly a beautiful post, and I’m so glad I stumbled upon it!

    Right after I read your post, I immediately started researching more marathon recovery plans, and came across Pete Pfitzinger’s article “Resuming Training After a Marathon.” He sort of loosely talks about what the first 6 weeks after the marathon should look like. I really liked what he says in his last few paragraphs, when he outlines a loose structure of what each week should be like, when to introduce strides and tempos again to start building up your lactic threshold.

    Have you read this article too? What do you think?

    http://pfitzinger.com/labreports/aftermarathon.shtml

    Jill

  4. Jill, it is *totally* normal. Remember not to beat yourself up if you’re not feeling ready to run. It can be hard to get back into it! I just keep telling myself that no matter what I’m going to have to start somewhere…That article you found on Pete Pfitzinger’s website looks really helpful, and I think it’s great that he emphasizes how important it is to set a goal. Do you have any goals in mind? Personally, I’d like to build my mileage base.

    I read your race report from your marathon–what an inspiration you are! I totally aspire to being able to hold a pace like yours! Sorry the race got so difficult for you toward the end, but you brought it home strong and you should be really proud of what you accomplished 🙂

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