You’ve just crossed the finish line and you’re elated. Even if you’re a little tired. Whether it’s your first marathon or your fiftieth, you have a lot to celebrate. Only about half of one percent of the U.S. population has achieved what you have just done.
But before you get caught up in the excitement and immediately set your goals on another event, your body needs some time to recover. One of the biggest mistakes some marathon runners make is that they don’t take enough time to rest.
How much time do you really need to take off from running after you complete a marathon? Depending on who you ask, you may get different answers. That’s partly because different “experts” have differing opinions. It’s also because the suggested length of your recovery period will depend on a few personal factors.
Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to how much down time you’ll need:
Give yourself at least a week of rest. Many experts agree that you should give your body at least 7-10 days to recover. Research shows that muscle damage can last up to two weeks after a marathon. So even if you’re itching to run again, keep in mind that your body has endured tremendous physical duress on your journey to traverse 26.2 miles. This is true no matter how fast you ran or how prepared you were for the race.
Pay attention to your body. It may take a few days for muscle soreness to really kick in. This delayed soreness is different than the soreness you may feel immediately after the race is over. It results from microscopic muscle tissue damage. The more soreness, the more damage. Your level of soreness will influence how long you need to wait before moving on to the next phase of activity – the more sore you are, the longer the recovery period.
Move to an active recovery period. After the first week or two of rest, you can begin an active phase of recovery, depending on how you’re feeling. If you’re not sore, begin exercising at a low-intensity level. Keep activity to less than 60 minutes in duration and only work out at about 60-65% of your max heart rate. Activities such as walking, jogging, bike riding and swimming are appropriate in this phase and help promote circulation. This circulation-boosting activity helps you heal and recover.
Follow a reverse tapering program. Once muscle soreness has subsided and you’re ready to jump back into running, consider following a reverse tapering plan. Just do the opposite of what you did to taper your training before the race. Gradually increase your running at an easy pace (no speed workouts) for about four weeks. Then you can consider returning to a normal level of training if your body feels ready for it.
Adapt your return to activity as needed. No matter what timeline you follow, keep in mind that everyone doesn’t recover in the same way or within the same timeframe. If you return to running and find your breathing is too heavy, your heart rate spikes or soreness returns, consider it a sign that you still need more time to recover.