Recovery: A Tale of Two Marathons

Earlier in the year, when I first realized that I’d only have 5 weeks between the Oakland and Big Sur Marathons, I was a little scared.  Would I be recovered and ready run another marathon in a relatively short amount of time?  To my relief, after finishing the Oakland Marathon, I was able to recover, do a tiny bit of training, taper, and run Big Sur 5 weeks later.  So, with the Big Basin Marathon looming in 4 weeks (6 weeks post-Big Sur), I expected to follow the same general recovery/train/taper cycle.

Immediately after Big Sur, my hips hurt a lot, but they’ve been doing that after marathons, so I’m used to it.  By the Tuesday after, I was easing my way into pigeon pose, which I wasn’t able to do until the Wednesday or Thursday after Oakland.  So, I took it as a sign of progress.  Running-wise, this is how week 1 post-Oakland compared with week 1 post-Big Sur:

Post-Oakland Marathon, week 1.

Post-Oakland Marathon, week 1.

Post Big Sur, week 1.

Post-Big Sur, week 1.

Despite the mileage difference, I’d say the quality of both of these weeks was similar.  One difference is that I went in for a sports massage on the Friday after Oakland, whereas I wasn’t able to see my massage therapist until Monday, 8 days after Big Sur.  Not sure if that made a difference or not.

So how did week 2 post-marathon compare?

Post-Oakland, week 2.

Post-Oakland, week 2.

Post-Big Sur, week 2

Post-Big Sur, week 2.

These 2 weeks would have been nearly identical if not for the fact that I decided to skip today’s recovery run.  And the reason why I skipped today’s recovery run is that my hips, and in particular, my left hip, has been screaming at me since yesterday’s trail run.  Let’s rewind:  I felt fine on Tuesday’s run at Lake Chabot, though in retrospect, I did charge down the hills a bit harder than I’m used to.  (I blame it on the excitement over registering for Big Basin.)  Wednesday’s run should’ve been an easy 4 miler around the neighborhood, but my hip started aching around mile 3.  It didn’t bother me that much though, so I went ahead with a hilly 6 mile run on Thursday, again focusing on being more aggressive on the downhills.  I actually felt okay after that run.  Perhaps a little sore, but nothing too bad.

However, I noticed on Friday that my legs were pretty heavy even just climbing the stairs at work and at home.  I was glad that I took the day completely off so that I would be rested for a planned trail run at Lake Chabot with Jess.  I woke up Saturday with a bit of achiness in my hip, so I spent part of the morning stretching and rolling pre-run, which was very unusual for me.  All throughout the run, my legs felt incredibly sore and my hips and hip flexors were pretty cranky.  However, I (again) didn’t think too much of it, since I felt similar sensations 5 weeks ago, when I did a tough trail run at San Bruno Mountain with Cathryn and Jess, also 13 days post-marathon.

The big difference came hours later, when the hip ache persisted throughout the day, into the evening, and even while I slept.  When I woke up this morning and it was still there, I knew I had to skip today’s recovery run.  I’m planning to take at least 2 more days off from running, and then re-evaluate things mid-week.  I figure that it’s better to be safe than sorry.  The worst case scenario of pushing it too hard now is getting sidelined with my first real running/overuse injury, whereas the worst case scenario of resting too much is being undertrained and having to walk a lot at Big Basin.  I’ll take the 2nd option, thank you.  In the absence of running, I look forward to returning to yoga and swimming (desperate times call for desperate measures!).

So, being an over-analyzer, I had to wonder: what were the major factors that caused the difference in post-marathon recovery?  I can think of a few possibilities.  First, I pushed myself a lot harder at Big Sur than at Oakland, so it makes sense that there would be a longer recovery period as well.  Second, I didn’t really introduce any hill work after Oakland until the run up San Bruno Mountain 13 days later.  Whereas, this past week, I ran not 1, but 3 hilly runs.  Third, I’ve been a lot more lax about my nutrition post-Big Sur than I had been post-Oakland.  After Big Sur, I’ve been eating a lot more fried foods and sweets, and drinking more alcohol.  There’s evidence that nutrition plays a key role in recovery, so… maybe that’s a good place to start!

As for the hip pain itself, it’s difficult to figure out the root cause.  Like many runners, I have weak glutes (and I cannot lie), which may contribute to the achiness.  I’ve been doing a ton of stretching which helps alleviate the pain, but doesn’t prevent it from occurring.  I’ve noticed that while rolling, my outer quad is very tight, so it might be related?  If anyone else has had similar issues, I’d love to hear about your experience and what you’ve done to address it.


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Injuries, random
15 comments on “Recovery: A Tale of Two Marathons
  1. dlubi says:

    Congrats on 2 great races! Sorry to hear about the hip pain! I am unfortunately all too familiar with nagging hip pain… Here are my thoughts on alleviating hip pain (but keep in mind I am not that type of doctor!):

    * chiropractor! I have a chronic hip issue and this is literally the only thing that has helped dramatically (deep tissue sports massage helped too but not as much plus chiropractor can tell if massage should also be used). Chiropractor or sports med doc can also id any muscle imbalances that could be the cause of your hip pain.

    * focus on pushing off ground with glutes in your run stride (that tip is actually from my coach) – tested this recently & it works – also makes me run faster without realizing it – bonus!

    * yes to swimming (low impact & great cardio)! Yes to cycling (glute building also less stress on lower body if bike fits well – if not can lead to more repetitive injury)

    * recovery for the second race could also be longer due to the fact that you ran 2 marathons close to one another and may really be recovering from both still? Taking a few days off / cross training is the right call for sure! Maybe stay away from long mileage until hips feel better. swim! I trained for a marathon by running 2x a week but swimming or cycling another 2-3 days and it was totally fine. In theory you just need to keep up your cardio fitness and muscle strength – using whatever sport suits you!

    Good luck! Happy to go swimming or cycling anytime! 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, D! Great tips and advice. My hip is already feeling a lot better – I knew that complaining about it on my blog and getting sympathy would make it better! 😉

  2. Kate says:

    Go see a sports chiro!
    It could be IT band related, esp. If you are noticing pain more on downhills. Check out RISE in Alameda.

  3. I think I’ve mentioned this is comments before but I go to an ostepath for manipulations. Kind of like a chiro but not. It REALLY helps. When your body is out of alignment all sorts of things hurt and not always where you’d expect.

    • Jen says:

      Interesting! How did you find a good one? It seems like Yelp is full of fake reviews for these types of professions. Hard to know who to trust…

  4. Mike says:

    You know what they say… you’ve run your best, now try to rest! (I’m pretty sure that’s what they say). Running is all about injuries/sorenesses that spring up suddenly, only to vanish just as suddenly. I could unload 20 different theories here to explain hip soreness (don’t tempt me), but I’d allow yourself a few days away from the biomechanical stresses of running before drawing any conclusions. Hopefully you’ll look back on this soon as a “I’d forgotten all about that hip thing!” post.

    And I’m not sure which scenario I prefer for Big Basin, but I do know I’d much prefer a DNS to a DNF.

    • Jen says:

      Hm. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that (“you’ve run your best, now try to rest!”)?! But now I have!

      The bad news is that after 4 days (3 of those resting), my hip is still a bit achey. The good news is that it’s not terrible to the point where I can’t run. The bad news is that I feel like it’s not just my hip, but my IT band and my low back too. I’m going to do the pro-active thing and get myself to a sports chiro. I’ve got an appointment on Friday morning.

      • Mike says:

        Ok, so I MIGHT have made up that first line… but it sounds like sage advice, don’t it?

        Hopefully this is all just a misunderstanding among some really tight, disgruntled muscle groups. I’ll keep my fingers crossed on Friday, and look forward to hearing more about your chiro appointment… especially if it does the trick!

  5. Emma says:

    I came over from Jan @Running on Fumes and wanted to comment that if the hip stuff continues, definitely get it checked out. I went 8 months with hip/groin issues and ended up with a torn hip labrum. It’s fairly common in runners but tends to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Odds are it’s not that but the only reason why I finally pushed for the MRI was because a friend mentioned it was a possibility, so I figure I would say something!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Emma. I hope I don’t have a torn hip labrum – that sounds really painful!! (Though I’ve heard that 95% of people have torn labrums by the end of their lives.) I have an appointment on Friday with a very experience sports chiropractor, who will hopefully help with my hip, and/or direct me to a doctor for proper diagnosis if it’s serious.

  6. Amy says:

    Considering I can’t even walk correctly for a week after a marathon much less run (it took me three weeks before I could run after Chicago and two after Boston), I guess I have nothing constructive to offer except I don’t think what you’re experience is abnormal at all.

    I’m really working to keep my hips in check right now, and I echo everyone else with the sports chiropractor suggestion. All of this running knocks your body off its rocker, and my hips actually get misaligned. And lots of hip/butt exercises. Maybe if I tell people this enough, I’ll start doing it for myself 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Amy, for joining the group encouraging me to see a sports chiro. I was thinking of you all as I ran this morning, with a bit of lingering hip pain despite taking 3 full days off. So yeah, I made an appointment as soon as I got home and I’ll be seeing the chiro on Friday morning. Wish me luck!

  7. […] week, I was full of complaints about aching hips.  I’m sorry to say that the saga continues.  Here’s what happened this week in the […]

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