While some runners are ready for a break after training for and finishing a race, not everyone embraces recovery so completely. After all, for many people, there are concerns about lost fitness, weight gain, boredom, inability to manage stress, or preparation for upcoming races. I know I’ve been guilty of not taking the proper amount of recovery time on more than one occasion!
What happens when runners do not properly recover from a race – especially a marathon? What types of effects might they experience? Common problems include the following:
- Mental and physical burnout and exhaustion
- Overuse injuries (shin splints, runner’s knee, tendonitis)
- Stress fractures
- Inability to train at peak levels
- Increased susceptibility to illness due to body’s exhausted and weakened immune system
Confession time: I’ve dealt with all of the above at some point when failing to recover properly from a race! So, how much time should you take off after a race in order to avoid any negative effects?
First, consider your effort during the race. Did you treat the event as a long training run (perhaps pacing a slower friend or in preparation for a longer race in the future)? If so, you are likely to need less time off than if you ran the race at your hardest effort. Listen to cues from your body. Commit to taking a day or two off after the race no matter what, and then begin listening to your body. If you have lingering soreness or exhaustion, wait to run until those feelings go away. It could be two days or two weeks – everyone is different!
Second, consider your history with injury. If you are someone who deals with frequent injuries, then you need to take time off after your race regardless of how good you think you feel. Be honest with yourself about your body, and take a lesson from me: I returned to running two days after my first marathon and ended up with a femoral neck stress fracture (essentially, I broke my hip) two weeks later. I couldn’t run for eight months. If I had taken an extra week or two off right after the marathon instead, I might have avoided the whole thing entirely.
Third, remember that recovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean complete immobility. While some people may prefer to take time off from any physical activity, it’s also an option to do zero impact activities like cycling, barre or yoga classes, or pilates. Just be gentle on your body! There are some other ways to speed up recovery, too:
- Eat nutritious foods
- Drink plenty of water
- Get extra sleep
- Foam roll or get a massage
Conventional wisdom says that you should take one day off of running for each mile that you raced, but I don’t know very many people that take 26 days off after a marathon. At the end of the day, each of us is different, and if you are truly honest with yourself and your body, you will find the right balance to recovery. Just promise me you’ll take at least a couple days off after your marathon, ok?