I'm pretty sure there is something worse than tapering...recovering post-race! See, during the taper, you at least have the focus of not screwing up all the hard earned fitness. Post-race recovery is all about letting race day stress soak in and removing all the fatigue from your body through consistent, but light training. At first, it was easy - I was pretty darn sore 2 days after the race. I had no interest in doing much training at all! But after some casual walks around the neighborhood and some spins on the bike, my legs are very quickly starting to feel normal again. Hooray!
But see that's where it is so easy to mess up the recovery process. While my legs might feel normal, they likely aren't....yet. And while it seems like ages since I ran the marathon, its only been 10 days. Anytime you take extended recovery, thoughts of loss of fitness creep in and start to play games with the mind. This is where being equally diligent about post-race recovery as you would your taper comes into play.
The reality is that you need to lose some fitness in order to make greater gains in the next training buildup. So long as you remain somewhat active (without too much stress), the de-training done during recovery is just enough to allow you to enter your next training bout with fresh legs, but still bring greater fitness to the table than the last time. Non-impact activities like cycling and swimming still work your aerobic system and core work/yoga helps maintain strength and elasticity in your muscles during this time. This repetitive cycle allows you to gradually increase your fitness year over year, establishing a new baseline after each recovery period.
Most reference books and experts recommend as many days as miles in your race to allow for this recovery to take effect. In this case, that's about a month. But to mentally get my head around it, I split my recovery into two components:
1) Two weeks of very light active work;
2) Two weeks of slowly incorporating a few more "regular" activities.
By the time the month is over, my mental state will be ready to sink my teeth into the next training plan and my physical state will allow me to hit the workouts with the same intensity as my mind wants you to do. However, the same caution should be taken the intensity is brought back up - slowly incorporating it as the body gets used what was its regular routine. And after those 4 weeks, I plan to take another week or so to just run - no goals or structure other than consistent running. After that, I'll finally be back and once again, a happy runner training as normal.
Of course, it is much easier to outline the goals of post-race recovery than to actually execute the recovery itself. Execution is always the hardest part. I've been doing great at staying the course so far. But you see, there is a small problem - I have a race smack in the middle of it...oops! Here is where reality and theory clash a bit. It is obviously not in my best interest to run a 10k race 2 weeks after the marathon. Of course, I've done it before. However, this is an annual race we always run, so run I will! As for how fast...only the effectiveness of my recovery thus far will showcase that on Saturday. Until then, recovery continues ;)