PMS: Post Marathon Syndrome
Got a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.
I’m in week 3 of Post Marathon Training, and I’ve found that I’m about 30-45 seconds- per-mile slower than my normal training pace even though it feels like I’m running as hard as I ran pre-marathon. I’m hoping this is normal. I was supposed to do 5 miles today, but ended up only doing 3.5. When will I regain the speed I had before running the marathon?
You’re suffering from PMS: Post Marathon Syndrome. It’s part mental, but part physical. Here’s what happens. During the marathon, no matter how well you rehydrated with sports drinks you most certainly drained almost all the glycogen out of your muscles by the time your reached the finish line. Glycogen is the fuel used while exercising, where we get our energy. Without a store of muscle glycogen (that normally would be replenished by eating foods rich in carbohydrate), the body needs to go to a secondary source: fats, and in desperate situations, proteins. Unfortunately, fats don’t convert quite as readily as carbohydrates, so it slows us down. Add to that the muscle trauma that occurs in a marathon, the microscopic tears that result when we run flat out, and it is easy to see why you have lost 30-45 seconds from your previous pace.
How quickly will you recover? A high-mileage runner might replenish glycogen in a week. The tears also would repair by then. But for others, it might take 4-5 weeks! That is one reason why I designed a Post Marathon Training program that begins with a Zero Week, with almost no running, then continues with four more weeks of gradually more running. Muscle recovery sometimes is compounded by mental recovery. For at least the time being, we have run out of goals— at least until we focus our attention on another race. So, yes, what you are experiencing is very normal. Just be patient, and you’ll be back at your normal pace when your mind and body heal.