Post-Marathon Stuff Body/Mind

June 11, 2024

Running + Body Stuff

(Please ignore this section if discussion of weight or body composition changes is triggering to you!!)

Some of you have been curious about body composition changes during the marathon training cycle.

During my Bayshore Marathon training, I peaked at 70 mpw (2 at 70 miles exactly, and multiple weeks in the 60s). I know some people struggle to keep weight on while running higher mileage; I have never been one of those people. I have instead experienced annoying weight gain while ramping up to higher mileage training before and whined about it as recently as a year ago.

(In retrospect, I think that July whine was brought on mainly by a birth control switch — I have since stopped all OCPs as it turned out that for me they were causing frequent and frustrating migraines.)

Last fall, I took Meghann Featherstun’s group nutrition training (I was in the fall marathon group as I was planning to run JAX at the time). My major takeaways from this course were:

  • Fuel your speedwork and long runs really well – I took a gel every 30 minutes on my long runs + speedwork.
  • Some form of carbs before every run – I usually use graham crackers with my coffee in the morning, just 2 sheets or 4 squares – and I think it helps! PS: the Trader Joe’s graham crackers are my favorite and they are BACK and this time I will buy 45 boxes so I can have them all year round. Apparently they are a ‘summer item’ . . .
  • Replace water + electrolytes aggressively. LMNT is my favorite.
  • Eat a lot of protein! I tried to make sure every meal had a substantial protein component and sometimes snacks too. I didn’t shy away from protein shakes/bars as I had in the past (easiest supplemental sources for me — Core Power = 26g, Perfect Bars = 17g, Rise Bars = 18g, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt)

Obviously there was more, but those were my personal takeaways. I did not intend to stop strength training during my marathon build but I effectively stopped by March. Oops. I would not recommend this but it is what happened.

In the end, I would say ended up gaining just a little bit of weight (like 2 lb – really not much) and definitely losing muscle mass/definition/strength in the upper body in particular. The next two pictures are me around the end of my training and just a bit after.

after a hot run in May
this weekend when I actually attempted to wear an ‘outfit’

Oh, and I mentioned feeling puffy during the carb load. I didn’t have a scale with me which was probably good so I don’t have objective data, but I am pretty sure I was up weight-wise a bit more for my actual race, from water/glycogen AND the fact that I had been PMSing (of course).

Two things were interesting that I want to note:

  • You can get substantially faster without losing any weight or even dropping body fat. I know this should be obvious but whenever someone writes about making progress with race times or whatever I wonder — was there a substantial body comp change that went with these improvements? In my case, there truly was not.
  • My prior strength training did not seem that impressive but it must have been doing something because I can definitely tell the difference having NOT done it!! I mostly did Peloton strength workouts of 20-30 min duration, previously using weights up to 25 lb (lower body) and usually 10-17 lb for upper body. This wasn’t elaborate and didn’t involve some fancy progression but was in fact enough to mostly maintain strength. I know that now because I have LOST said strength and muscle. I absolutely cannot lift those weights now, and feel like I lack the modest muscle definition I had before. (But hey, at least I know how I can get it back!)

Would I do anything differently the next time around? Diet-wise, I’m not sure. I think I could perhaps do even better with protein. Would being a bit lighter help me go faster? Maybe, but it would probably be disruptive to the rest of life and could set me up for injury, so I don’t want to make that a focus. I do hope to NOT give up strength training the way I did! Even if it’s just 2 days/week for 20-30 min I think it does help maintain muscle mass which is so important long term. Not getting any younger over here . . .

Feeling / Energy / Etc

So that’s the physical piece – what about the mental? I had a few people ask about whether I have any post-race letdown. I would say . . . not really. I was super happy with how the race went overall AND I was excited to take a break from heavy training. I will say I do wonder whether I could have attacked the last several miles of the race with a bit more intensity (did I mentally give up a bit bc I realized I could ease up and still almost exactly make my A goal? Maybe . . . this podcast ep about the mind/body connection really made me wonder).

I have however been more tired. My runs have been slower, and I can’t tell if it’s entirely heat related or just my body not being fully 100% after the race effort. I’m able to ramp things up for short spurts (like 1 min repeats or strides) but I just don’t feel super energetic and I feel like I’ve needed more sleep — even more than I needed during then training itself. During the peak weeks of training I kind of felt like I had adrenaline getting me through the super early wakeups and long workouts and now that is not present. Which is probably a good thing as I think ebbs and flows are probably healthy!

On the other hand, I’ve had more excitement and energy around NON running related things (I FINALLY STARTED DECLUTTERING) which is nice.

Strength + Speed

So as noted, I want to spend the next few months running less (though still a decent amount), lifting more, and emphasizing speed/power more than endurance. I am also trying to just CHILL OUT about how slow my paces are in the heat. Maybe I will adapt more and maybe I won’t but either way running faster will feel easier in November.


  • Reply Gillian June 11, 2024 at 10:45 am

    One of the things I see patients for in my practice is weight loss. I cannot tell you how many people come in saying they are shocked they didn’t lose weight despite training for a marathon. In my experience training for speed/performance and weight loss are in opposition to one another and really pretty incompatible. In fact I think most people gain at least a little weight training for longer runs unless they are really under fueling which will negatively impact performance.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 11, 2024 at 10:55 am

      one thing I can say is I am definitely wise to this now, which kind of helps in a way.

    • Reply Anon June 12, 2024 at 1:44 pm

      I learned this lesson massively a few years ago. I got a chronic illness and now cannot exercise at all. I expected to gain weight but did not. I expected to lose muscle and definitely did, losing weight as a result. My body looks different for sure but not as different as you would expect given the drastic change. Weight and body composition are so strange and are way less connected to either exercise or diet than I thought….

    • Reply San June 16, 2024 at 3:08 pm

      I think this is a really important point, Gillian. Training with the expectation of performance improvement and trying to lose weight are pretty incompatible because you can’t fuel your body right during high intensity training while also trying to be in a caloric deficit.

  • Reply Seppie June 11, 2024 at 10:58 am

    This is helpful – I’m doing some similar reflection after finishing my cross-country bicycle ride. I did lose about 15 pounds over two months, but was definitely eating to fuel rather than eating to lose. Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’m trying to figure out the right cadences for eating and exercising while also catching up on everything else in life that got put on the back burner while I was training and then riding.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 11, 2024 at 11:12 am

      that is so cool that you did that ride!!! something to remember forever.

  • Reply Heather June 11, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    It probably wouldn’t work with your busy schedule, but I truly think taking Orangetheory classes while training helped with my speed and muscle build. It might be something to think about with school being out. I had my best half marathon time while taking those classes two times per week.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 11, 2024 at 3:20 pm

      I’d probably really enjoy OrangeTheory too but hard to know how to mesh with current training!!

      • Reply Heather June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

        I typically used it as a speed practice. They also now just have strength classes.

  • Reply coco June 11, 2024 at 5:23 pm

    good reflection. I share similar ideas. weight didn’t change, maybe up 1-2 lbs, and lost quickly due to 10 days of sick/travel. I do try to up protein but it is not easy as I don’t eat meat much and there’s just so much tofu I can eat in a day, so using protein powder is a must.
    I think it’s normal to feel tired/off, I didn’t feel normal post race for 1.5 months I think, part of the 0.5 month was because I was sick or slow recovery and work stress. But two months later, I feel I’m back to pre-race state and enjoy running and not drained afterwards.
    getting back to strength is a slow process ,if you find a good routine/tips to get excited around it, let me know but I simply don’t love it as running.

  • Reply JB June 11, 2024 at 5:47 pm

    I also find that running (a lot or a medium amount) does not have any recognizable impact on weight LOSS but I think it has a huge impact on weight MAINTENANCE and body composition maintenance. At 47 and with two kids, my body look about the same in terms of weight and lean-ness as it did when I was 27. I don’t think it would be that way without consistent running of 20-50 miles per week for most of the last two decades. I have only recently started to strength train with weights, but do fast-flow yoga regularly (4-5 x per week) for about 15 years. I eat healthy, but a decent amount of food and allow myself lots of leeway for “special” occasions. The running keeps me “in shape,” but does cause me to lose any weight.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 12, 2024 at 12:45 pm

      Interesting! Esp the body comp part. I think I have gotten used to a certain level of muscle mass that takes regularly lifting to maintain so when I just run I’m sort of feeling mushier compared to the desired baseline, if that makes sense!

      • Reply Jennie Kay June 13, 2024 at 1:02 pm

        Used to the aesthetic or used to the functional strength? I’m trying to motivate myself to start as I’m hitting my mid forties and I just don’t want to so need a why! I love cardio of most kinds and play tennis and I don’t want to give time to it!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 13, 2024 at 2:44 pm

          Both!!! And I’ve drank the Peter Attia kool aid that maintaining muscle mass is important for being highly functional with age. Obviously anything could happen but I want to ensure I take steps to preserve strength over the decades so I can lift grocery bags and grandchildren in my 70s …

  • Reply V June 11, 2024 at 6:28 pm

    Looking forward to hearing more about the decluttering adventure!

  • Reply Laura June 11, 2024 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Sarah! Did you share what you did in Traverse City, such as restaurants, hotel, and any activities besides the marathon? I’m going to Traverse next month and would love to hear what you did there.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 12, 2024 at 12:44 pm

      We didn’t loooove our hotel and we honestly didn’t do all that much!! We went to Aerie restaurant which was $$$ but did have lovely views. Honestly we were mostly focused on the race though it was lovely just to see the surroundings and the area for the first time!

  • Reply jennystancampiano June 12, 2024 at 4:01 pm

    Yeah, my weight seems to stay the same no matter what I do. I’ve also been feeling more tired since my race, even though I think I’m all recovered? I wonder if it’s physical or mental.
    Ugh, it’s so hard to fit strength in. I’ve never run the weekly mileage that you did, and I still find it hard. I wish I could spend more time running and less on strength, but I feel like I’m fighting to keep my body in one piece (sigh.)

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