The Aftermath: 12 Weeks of Regaining My Strength

I appear to have fallen behind on my blog once again. Apologies to the few people who read this regularly. I have had other priorities lately and they always seem to take precedence over writing about running. But I miss writing regularly so here’s hoping I can be a little better about fitting it in, even if I do have an ever-growing pile of clothes on my bed that need folding.

I am already a few weeks into my training for the 2020 Boston Marathon and I’ve begun writing still-unpublished training posts. I’ll be playing catch-up with the first few. But before you get to read about that, I’d like to write about the period of time between the NYC Marathon and when I began training for Boston. Twelve weeks separated those events, and it might be interesting to cover what happened during that time – mainly, how I got myself back into fighting shape. And yes, it took the entire twelve weeks.

As you might have read from my long, detailed, and often painful race recap, the 2019 NYC Marathon was, for me, a terrible race. Mentally, I was okay – I might have even come out of it stronger. Physically, it absolutely destroyed me. Never in my life had I been in so much physical discomfort, both during the race and in the weeks following it.


On the struggle bus

As a reminder, I got hit with plantar fasciitis in September, muddled through the next six weeks of training (often replacing runs with swimming or the AlterG treadmill), and ran the NYC Marathon in less than ideal shape.

I have one annoying quirk (of many) where I have to do something every day in terms of a “workout.” This could be running, strength training, or both. Sometimes it means very easy yoga. Or even just conscious stretching. It’s not always intense, I just make a point to do something. This way, by my logic, I will never slack. Even in the week following the NYC Marathon, I did some kind of stretching every day. This was all I could do.

One important thing I’ve learned is that you can’t suddenly jump into regular running right after you run a marathon. Recovery takes time! I’ve heard it said that two key components to being a better runner are consistency and patience. I am good at the consistency part. Not always the patience part. I’m trying. These twelve weeks helped.

So let’s read about it!

This recovery period spanned November 4, 2019 to January 26, 2020.

Week 1 (11/4 – 11/10): The week after the marathon, all I did was some kind of yoga or stretching every day. No weight training, no swimming, and definitely no running. I limped for three days straight following the race. I could not walk without a limp until Thursday. Keep in mind I have a dog who needs walking 3-4 times a day. So I had no choice but to walk. Fortunately, I think the walking actually helped.

Weeks 2-3 (11/11 –11/24): Still no running. While the limping had subsided, I had the occasional pain in my knee, quad, or heels. Going down stairs was often challenging. Still, walking helped – sometimes I’d begin a walk with my dog with pain and by the end, I’d feel better. I actually think the pain came from sitting too much. (I would eventually create a standing desk.) I did some light strength training, returned to the pool for some short, easy swims, and still did yoga.

Weeks 4-6 (11/25 – 12/15): Finally, after three weeks, the pain in my legs faded. I could go down stairs easily again. Three weeks of leg pain. Insane. (After last spring’s NJ Marathon, I took just five days off before running again.) My first run back was in week 4 of recovery: 1 slow mile on Thanksgiving and then 1.5 miles two days later. Over the next two weeks, I ran just five more times, slowly increasing my runs from 3 to 7 miles, and never two days in a row.

Thanksgiving Day 2019 - first run back
After running one whole 11-minute mile on Thanksgiving

I should add that December 14th was the NY Harriers‘ holiday party and I was so happy to receive their 2019 W45-49 age group award. I was also happy to get some use out of a dress I had worn only once for a wedding a year and a half earlier.

IMG_2506 Harriers Holiday party 2019 age group award

Weeks 7-8 (12/16 – 12/29): Just as I’d begun feeling like I had some sort of momentum, I got hit with a winter cold. Ugh. Some runners can run through colds. I cannot. And this one, while not horrible, was long. It felt like it stuck around forever. I don’t even know how many boxes of tissues I went through (you’re welcome, CVS). I only did some easy strength training and yoga during these two weeks. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as my last two runs in week 6 had left me with mild IT band pain. So this was a chance to rest.

Week 9 (12/30 – 1/5): Finally! My major stuffiness had subsided and I was starting to feel somewhat normal again. Still blowing my nose and coughing up phlegm, but not constantly, and my energy was up. The Harriers always have a New Year’s Day donut run and it’s one of my favorite runs of the year. I didn’t want to miss it. So January 1st was my first run back: 3.9 miles at a fairly easy pace, and it was hard. I enjoyed that donut. And my IT band pain was gone. I ran two more times that week, bringing my weekly mileage to 12.42.

Weeks 10-12 (1/6 – 1/26): Here’s where my real running began. The Harriers started a new training season on January 8th: speed on Wednesdays and tempo runs on Fridays. I joined them on these mornings – it’s nice to have an excuse to get out early and have other people to suffer, I mean, run with. The intervals were never faster than marathon pace, and I typically ran them even slower than that. Running was getting easier: I had upped my cadence which took the pressure off my heels, and the foot pain that had plagued me throughout the fall, although not entirely gone, was beginning to subside. I continued to strength train a few times a week and swim once a week. Over these three weeks, my weekly mileage went from 20 to 29 to 32.

IMG_2863 warm day on 1-12-20
An unusually warm day in mid-January (it would snow enough to sled less than a week later)
IMG_2973 Harriers morning workout 1-22-20
Some of the NY Harriers after Cat Hill repeats in January

By the end of week 12 of recovery, I felt ready to begin a new marathon training block.

This was the longest it had ever taken me to feel normal again after a race. I’m still not sure it was a good idea to run the NYC Marathon given the state of my feet and my lack of training preceding it, but what’s done is done. I can only learn from it.

If anything, this recovery period showed me that both consistency and patience were key – I started conservatively with short, slow runs, and I kept up my strength training and stretching. If all I could do that day was 20 minutes of easy yoga, that’s all I did. If I thought I could handle something more intense, I gave it a shot. On the other hand, if I had just sat around for three months and then tried to start marathon training again on January 27th, there is no way my body would have been ready.

Here’s what I’m taking away from this: do what you can when you can. There is no set timeline for when you should do anything. Push yourself when you feel strong. Hold back when you don’t. Don’t compare yourself to others. Listen to your body. Trust your body. Be good to your body.

And with that, my training for the 2020 Boston Marathon begins…

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