Give Yourself a Marathon Rest: Body and Mind. The Importance of Proper Marathon Recovery
You’ve crossed the finish line of your fall marathon. You’ve gotten your medal. The day’s celebratory dinner and social media status buzz about your accomplishment has faded. Almost immediately you’re thinking about how you can better your time in the next marathon. The urge to hit the pavement to train for your next race is intense.
Stop right there.
Your Body Needs the Rest
Regardless of varying individual recovery times (some athletes recover more quickly than others) you need to take an extended break after a marathon and ease back into training. The fact is your body needs the rest and recovery no matter how excited you are to get back to training. The pounding your body takes during the 26.2 mile marathon course is intense. The strain your muscles, tendons and bones are subjected to is deep. If you don’t allow enough time for your body to repair the damage done, and return too quickly to your full marathon training mileage and intensity, you put yourself in a position for sickness or injury.
The general rule I have for the runners I coach: if you race 26.2 miles, take at least 26 days to recover. My recommendation after a marathon is to take the first 5-7 days completely off from running. Then, over the remaining three weeks, just jog no more than four days per week, with no run going over an hour. Only after that should you start doing more difficult workouts like tempo runs, speed workouts or extended long runs.
This rest will be more important to your training than any run you’ll do.
Give the Racing a Rest
Many runners not only return to training too soon, they return to racing too soon. The law of diminishing returns applies after a marathon. “Freshness” is the most underrated running attribute your body has during training. Many runners place emphasis solely on speed and endurance as the most important qualities a runner can have. If you race a marathon and race again shortly thereafter, you won’t see the results you’re most likely capable of when your body has had the proper time to recover. Letting the freshness return to your legs is key to optimal race performance. There’s a reason the elite runners only race two marathons a year - they know that to race more than that will be detrimental to their racing time goals.
Revel in Your Accomplishment
Just as your body needs time off, your mind needs the rest, too. Take your time getting back into it. Take the time to revel in your marathon accomplishment -- you’ve earned it! Your brain needs a break from the goals, running obligations and all the worries associated with an endeavor as intense as marathon training and racing. Taking time off will help prevent mental burnout as you return to spring marathon training for the next 3-4 months. Make time for all the personal activities you couldn’t do because of your marathon training schedule. Having this type of agency over your running clears the mind and makes the upcoming winter training more enjoyable. Your mind will be fresh and you’ll be ready to get back into it.
Kevin Granato is a running coach for Granato Racing, a 2:44:00 marathoner and freelance writer. Feel free to email him at CoachGranato@TheRunningInstitute.com.