THE WEEKS FOLLOWING RACE DAY AND GLYCOGEN REPLENISHMENT
It's been three weeks since Ironman 70.3 Coeur d'Alene and I am a couple of weeks into marathon training. If you are new to endurance training (or you are my husband) you may roll your eyes and think, "this biish is crazy." Truly, I never thought I would be the person to finish a race of any kind let alone be hopping from one to the next. But they are addicting. I'm not even close to NYC Marathon and I am already thinking of what will be my next marathon or Ironman. That being said, recovery between races is SO important.
After my first marathon, I heard from other runners that you should take ~30 days off after you race and let your body recover. I didn't do much research, but that sounded good. I was so sore the first week and I also missed cross training, so it wasn't that difficult to hold off on running and fill my time with my favorite group fitness classes. A handful of races later, I am actually interested in understanding why recovery is important and how to recover appropriately. Reminder every human and race is different. This is meant to provider more details and look at what evidence if any is out there. Always feel free to share your perspective below or email us!
When Should I Start Running Again?
There are lots of opinions and recovery plans out there. As a clinical pharmacist, I have access to scholarly literature searches (Pubmed and UpToDate), which I used to help delve into some of the later details on this topic. However, I decided to start my search like many of you would, by surfing the web to see what comes up when you type in "marathon recovery plan."
If you have ever looked up running plans, then chances are you have come across a Hal Higdon plan. Hal Higdon is a runner and a best-selling author. He has developed training plans for everyone from novice to advanced runners, half marathons and full marathons, and even has a week by week guide for the month post marathon. He refers to the time frame post marathon as, "Mile 27" in his book. I will be the first to admit that I have not purchased any of these plans, so I cannot vouch from personal experience, but I do think they create a great framework. My spark notes summary of his recovery program for advanced runners is below:
I wanted to compare the Hal Higdon post-marathon recovery plan to other internet plans. My next web search brought up and article from Runner's World. Pleasantly, Runner's World broke down the recovery post marathon week by week as well. They didn't provide as much detail on when to run or incorporate speed work, but encouraged adding on to intensity and duration as week's progressed.
At this point, I want to look into the science behind the recovery. Most plans are recommending a similar amount of time to recover, but why? What is going on in your body after a marathon?
In a study by Tsai and colleagues, massive aerobic exercise i.e. running 26.2 miles led to un-repaired DNA base oxidation. "This oxidative DNA damage correlated significantly with plasma levels of creatinine kinase and lipid peroxidation metabolites, and lasted for more than 1 week following the race." WHOA...what does that actually mean?? Creatine kinase is a muscle enzyme that lives within your mitochondria and is usually elevated in response to muscular damage, which in turn is a marker of the degree of muscle injury. It is also involved the storage and transfer of energy. In elite athletes or in marathoners the concentration of this particular enzyme increases within skeletal muscle and is usually in response to regenerating muscle fibers.
So basically, running a marathon = elevated creatine kinase for ~1 week = wait a couple weeks to resume vigorous aerobic exercise.
Runner's Connect is another great blog with a wealth of information, including a post on overtraining. In this post, the recommendation is to wait 2-3 weeks post marathon to allow ample time for recovery of both creatine kinase and myoglobin (myoglobin acts as oxygen storage for mitochondria). Based on my research, there are limited studies and data on the physiologic changes that occur after prolonged aerobic exercise; however, it appears that at least 2 weeks of light or minimal exercise is recommended before the athlete resumes rigorous training. One of the other topics that intrigued me was nutrition after the race. We all have heard of carbo crams before aerobic sporting events, but what about replenishing our glycogen stores after crossing the finish line?
Carbo-loading Post-Race: Glycogen Replenishment Facts
Disclaimer, the pic above is part of the dinner my husband an I enjoyed before my Ironman 70.3. It has absolutely nothing to do with building back glycogen stores after the race. I wanted to share this pic to spark some intrigue --everyone's pre-race rituals and nutrition vary. That is normal and I don't encourage you to suddenly change your diet the day before a race to reflect what works for me. However, a part of training involves using the months prior to race day to figure out what food fuels YOU best. I don't change my nutrition drastically the days leading up to my race. I don't eat pasta often in my regular life because it makes me feel heavy so you probs won't see me eating pasta the day before a marathon. I do love sushi and fries. So you can bet my pre-race meal always includes sweet potato fries and either sushi or an alternative lean protein source (baked fish is great if the city doesn't have great sushi). I also drink one, no more than two glasses of wine or a margarita in my normal week. PAUSE. Yes, you read that right. I am an athlete who enjoys fries and alcohol. Pre-race jitters would be so much worse if I also forbid myself from enjoying the foods and draaanks I love. Again, I don't binge drink while training so I definitely don't binge the day prior to the main event but a glass of wine is the perfect way to unwind. But enough about pre-race carbs, let's chat about what comes after.
Massive aerobic training does not just impact your muscle fibers and enzymes, it also depletes your glycogen stores. But what is glycogen? An article in The Sport Journal, titled "Glycogen Replenishment After Exhaustive Exercise," delved into awesome detail on this topic.
Glycogen is made up of long chain polymers of glucose molecules which are stored in liver and muscle and used by the body during exercise . At higher exercise intensities, glycogen becomes the main fuel utilized. When liver glycogen is depleted it can reduce blood glucose levels which results in volitional exhaustion. The concentration of muscle and liver glycogen prior to exercise plays an important role in endurance exercise capacity. It is actually typical for glycogen to be more depleted in the liver than muscle following intensive training, 85-95% versus 65-85%, respectively. Although you did a stellar job building up your glycogen stores before the race, now you have used all that energy and need to refuel.
Think about it, your body is like a race car. You fueled it with premium fuel leading up to race day and you won because you competed and completed by crossing that finish line. Now I don't know about you, but my bodice is even more of a temple after that race and I definitely want it running smooth quickly after. So fuel up! The two hour window immediately after exercise cessation is optimal for carbohydrate (carb) ingestion. Your glycogen resynthesizes at a rate of 2% per hour after this two hour window, but this rate rises to 5% when 50 grams of carbs are consumed. Another lit search led me to a great read titled, "Fundamentals of Glycogen Metabolism for coaches and Athletes," which states that 1-1.2 g carbs per kg of body weight per hour should be consumed to take advantage of the improved glycogen synthesis that can occur immediately post massive aerobic exercise. The overall goal is to ingest 10 g of carbs per kg of body weight in the first 24 hours.
For example, I weigh 63 kg (or ~140 lbs) so my goal is 630 grams of carbs post marathon and I should ideally try to eat 60-75 g of carb per hour. Let me put that in perspective, a banana has ~30 g of carbs and a slice of bread has ~15 g of carbs. So it takes WERK to eat all those carbs. Work smarter, not harder people! Help your bod recover by capitalizing on improved glycogen synthesis occurring immediately after the race and start ingesting those carb dense foods shortly after crossing the finish line.
Below are some examples of carb-rich foods from that article:
P.s. you can bet I looked up grams of carbs in my two fave foods (because research duh)... a side of sweet potato fries at a restaurant is ~50 g and the average sushi roll is anywhere between 50-60 g. Unfortunately, a pour of wine is only 4 g of carbs. Soo I guess I will stick to eating my carbs ;).
OKURRR... I know I hit you guys with a lot of science and knowledge bombs, but hopefully this helps you understand the importance of recovering the right way after your next big race. I know I have personally failed at glycogen replenishment in the past and feel fatigued the evening and day following the race. I will definitely be making some big changes to nutrition after NYC Marathon and am hoping this helps with energy. I also need to SLOW DOWN after races and allow more than 5 days before revisiting vigorous physical activity. Guilty of starting back up again too quickly! I promise to be more patient after the next race and respect my body if you all do, k?
In order to see big improvements, you have to put in big effort.
I am a firm believer that you cannot just want or wish for something and expect it to be handed to you. Making goals reality, no matter how big or small, takes effort. Now, I also believe there are different types of effort. So let me share a little bit about my marathon running history with you. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I have 3 years and 4 marathons of real life experience.
I was never a “runner” or an “athlete,” but I have ALWAYS been stubborn and driven. Running intimidated me, but one year into my running affair, I signed up and completed my first marathon –Rock n Roll Seattle in 2015. It was more to prove to myself that I could train for and succeed at a race. I will be honest, I had wanted to time qualify for the Boston Marathon (BQ) on my first race. Probably not the most realistic goal for a first marathon, but that should give a lil insight into my personality. I trained by running 2 days per week and cross-training with spin classes and HIIT classes. I had fractured my ankle in 2012 and didn’t want to run “too much”. One of my running days was my long run, which increased each week by about 10-20% of the previous week’s mileage. The other run day was usually anywhere between 3 and 8 miles. I didn’t do a run taper and I didn’t really have anyone to train with so I had a lot of solo time. I didn’t realize they had updated the Boston Marathon qualifying times and I thought I had for sure made the cut off based on my pace (3 hours 37 minutes 22 seconds). I ended up missing the BQ by a little over 2 minutes! I was devastated, sore, and hungry. Literally, hungry from running 26.2 miles, but also hungry to sign up for another marathon and make my BQ dream a reality.
I took some time off running and signed up for the Wenatchee Marathon in 2016, which was a fairly flat and fast course. Only downside is that this race is in April, which means the bulk of training is during cold, rainy Seattle winter (not V FUN). I did not really learn my lesson and trained in a similar way, but with the encouragement of my husband and pup on the course I PR’d and made the Boston qualifying time by just under 3 minutes (3 hours 31 minutes 53 seconds)! I don’t know if I was more excited when I BQ’d or when I actually found out that I was accepted to run the Boston Marathon in 2017. BUCKET LIST! Boston would be marathon number 3 and about 6 weeks before the race, I joined Club Seattle Runners Division (CSRD).
So logically, I signed up for marathon number 4 –California International Marathon (CIM) 2017 with her and I slowly integrated a bit more hill and sprint training, running 2-3 days a week instead of just 2. My two goals for this marathon: don’t get injured and help my friend BQ. I even told Christy the weeks leading up to the race to not let me hold her back. If I felt the old injury bothering me, she should keep reaching for her goals. You can read more about our race in her blog post, but spoiler alert: WE DID IT. Both of us ran our fastest marathons on this notoriously quick course (3 hours 27 minutes 57 seconds). After running Boston and racing with no pain at CIM, I decided that I wanted to run all 7 Major World Marathons by the time I turn 35. This led to signing up for Chicago Marathon 2018.
I have decided to try something different for marathon number 5. I could be wrong, but I know that I am ready to commit to a more runtensive (mileage intensive) training program. Limting my running to twice weekly and augmenting my training with cycling classes works, but I also truly believe that I can race smarter and faster. The train smarter part: I decided to focus on strength training more intensively the past 2 months to build more core and glute stability before logging extra miles. I also started going to Tangelo Health 1-2 days per week a few months before training to prepare my body for the mileage it would be taking on. I cannot say enough POSITIVE things about the team at Tangelo! The train faster part: I reached out to Ashley, former collegiate track star and badass group fitness instructor for help. I wanted to ramp up the mileage gradually, integrate tempo runs/sprints/hills, and still be able to cross-train with weight lifting. She created an amazing training guide for us. She also shared some wisdom: not to become obsessed with following the guide to a T. LIFE HAPPENS. If you can’t get the miles in on a particular day, adapt and add some more on another day. I hope to keep you all updated on how this training cycle goes with blog posts along the way. In the mean time, I encourage you to take a step closer to your next big goal. TO THINK YES, NOT NO.
Ives Hot & Christy Talamo
Always searching for the next summit.