After a big race, an athlete soon thinks about "what's next." Many people make new goals, aim for a faster time, target other race distances, or pursue alternative race types. After a marathon, runners may seek another marathon to break their record, consider getting faster at shorter distances such as a 10k, or jump into triathlon training. Whatever the next training cycle brings, the first step that has to occur is recovery.
Everyone recovers at different paces and there are many variables to consider. Recovery rate depends on race distance, terrain, temperature, exertion level, hydration, nutrition, injuries, and so much more. After weeks of training for a marathon and then finally completing it, there is both physical and mental recovery that has to occur. Physical for all the work your muscles have been through, and mental for all the focus and concentration you've put into your training.
After running 9 marathons, I have found I typically need 3 days completely off from running after a marathon. After that, I'll slowly ease back into training with lots more rest breaks mixed in. There are no rules though, and you truly have to go by how you feel. I took 3 whole weeks off after my first marathon and I took 5 days off after both times I ran Boston. Here is a look at each marathon individually:
- #1 = 3 weeks (I was very sore and took time off for swimming/cycling)
- #2 = 3 days
- #3 = 6 days (a very hot marathon)
- #4 = 3 days
- #5 = 5 days (my first Boston - I had hypothermia at the end)
- #6 = 3 days
- #7 = 3 days
- #8 = 5 days (my second Boston - very hot)
- #9 = 3 days
Running coaches vary in their recommendations for time off after marathons as well. Some recommend 2 weeks whereas others suggest gradual return after 2-3 days off. The first run back is usually only 20-30 minutes and followed by another rest day. Most recovery training plans have you ease back into your regular running routine over 2-4 weeks. Running is a huge part of my life and daily routine, so I don't like to take too much time off. However, full recovery is essential to be ready for your next big goal.
Here are a few tips I follow to speed up recovery after a marathon:
- Drink lots of fluids and eat well shortly after the race. The longer you wait to eat, the harder it is for your muscles to recover.
- Take short easy walks on flat terrain to help loosen your body up and move frequently throughout the day to prevent getting stiff, but otherwise rest your legs.
- Celebrate your finish with some treats, but keep up your nutrition. Your body needs high quality carbohydrates and protein to repair damaged cells. Too much low quality food will feed inflammation.
- Take ice baths as needed and foam roll or get a massage for achy muscles.
- Allow yourself extra time to sleep - go to bed early and set the alarm late. You don't have to wake up to go running!
- Run on flat, soft terrain for your first run back.
- Try swimming, cycling, hiking, strength training, or other cross-training activities on your rest days. Variety is good and makes you a more well-rounded, injury-proof athlete.
After my marathon last weekend, I have been taking time to bake cookies, try some new strength moves, and explore some hiking trails!