Last Sunday, I ran my first full marathon – the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I clocked 4:38:05, which was slower than I’d hoped. But considering the heat even with a 7:30 a.m. start I was just happy to finish.
Chicago lived up to the hype: Great crowd support, wonderful volunteers and a timing system so refined that when I returned to my apartment in Evanston a couple hours after finishing, my roommates had already clocked my splits and decorated signs for my door. (Thanks again, ladies!)
I tend to keep my Southern Illinois roots as hidden as possible but, over the past two days, a country song by Dierks Bentley keeps playing in my head: “I knew what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?” I promise this is pertinent because, since crossing that finish line, my body has definitely been asking: What were YOU thinking?!
It’s called delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS, for short – and I’m right on schedule at 24 to 48 hours post-run, said Marie Jarrell, head marathon coach for the Illinois Team in Training group. So feet swollen to twice their normal size and movement slower than a turtle is "completely normal" following an exertion like this, and that should give me comfort. It does not.
Jarrell’s suggestion for relief is a deep-tissue massage. “You don’t want one right after the race because those muscles are too warm and still working too hard” she said. “But a couple days later, it can really help – that and stretching.”
As a college student subsisting on a lot of pasta and peanut butter (the broke kid’s version of carbo-loading), splurging on a deep-tissue massage is out of the question. The stretching I can definitely handle, though.
Roberta Anding shook her head at my current diet, pointing out that one of the biggest mistakes athletes make is thinking the only important meal post-race is the first one. False, the Houston-based sports nutritionist said.
“Recovery is a process of refueling over a period of 48 hours after the activity,” she said.
I did devour a delicious black and bleu cheeseburger (and a pale ale – I earned a beer after 26.2!) with my parents post-run, but it appears that switching to a custard cone Sunday night may not have been prime recovery food. Still, the point is to fuel, because 26.2 is a pretty intense effort, as I’m sure men’s winner Moses Mosop of Kenya (2:05:37) and women’s champion Liliya Shobukhova of Russia (2:18:20) know, too.
While I would love to have been the first Chicago competitor to win three consecutive titles (here’s looking at you, Liliya), I fall firmly into the Weekend Warrior category, so Dr. George Chiampas said once I’m feeling better physically, I need to identify a new challenge so I don’t fall into the “let-down” trap.
“The mental aspect is so important, because this has been your focus, your family’s focus, your friends’ focus,” the medical director for the marathon said. “Having sacrificed that time for runs and training, it’s important to get some perspective but also to find another challenge so you stay competitive.”
Finding a new race is never a problem in the Windy City, but Jarrell reminded me of the “Day per Mile” rule. Basically, it’s fine to start exercising a couple of days after the marathon, but I should hold off on another hard effort for at least 26 days.
“There’s a difference between taking time off and relative rest,” she said. “If someone goes hard back into it, they’ll put themselves at risk for injury and delay that whole process - you’ll actually feel fatigued for longer.”
With Halloween-themed 5Ks and 10Ks right around the corner, I’d be hard-pressed to not participate in at least one. The trick will be making sure I run for enjoyment as opposed to time. The treat is knowing I’ll definitely be racing Chicago again next October.