Despite what many running publications will tell you, there is no right way to recover and return to running after a marathon. As runners, we are all at different points in our running careers, we all have different recovery times, and we each have different goals. In my own personal running career, I have opted for everything ranging from zero recovery after a marathon (running another marathon the following day) to taking an entire month off from running in any form. When considering how to approach marathon recovery and a return to running, consider the following:
How long have you been running? Is this your first marathon, your fifth, or your fortieth? How old are you? As we build up our running endurance and run more marathons, we often find that our recovery time after the event is shorter. Think about it – you might have been pretty sore after your first ten mile run, but how did you feel once you reached your first twenty mile run? That ten miler probably seemed like small potatoes. In the same way, the body can eventually get used to running marathons. If you are recovering from your first event, a good rule of thumb is to take a day off for every mile raced (yes, that’s 26 days!) and then slowly build back up. More seasoned runners might take half that much time off or even less.
How do you feel in the days after the race? Some runners experience soreness and aches in a much more pronounced way than others because our bodies process lactic acid differently. If you have a history of stress fractures or overuse injuries, such as shin splints or runner’s knee, additional time off may be in order. Runners who are rarely injured and experience minimal soreness or stiffness may adapt to higher mileage more quickly and not require as much recovery time. No matter how great you feel after your first marathon, though, take it easy! I felt awesome after mine and jumped right back into running a mere two days later – and ended up with a stress fracture. Learn from my mistakes!
Let’s face it, marathon training is hard. It’s not only challenging physically, but it can be mentally exhausting as well. Arranging your whole life around weekend long runs can take a toll on anyone. Sometimes, we’re so worried about losing fitness after a race that we jump right back into running and training without giving ourselves time to unwind and relax for a bit, which can ultimately lead to total burnout. Take a few days after the race to really evaluate how you feel about racing and training and then begin to plan for future events. You may find your marathon has left you excited about starting a new plan and earning a new PR, or you may feel like you never want to train for another race. Either way, there is no right answer, and you’ll be ready to return to running when the time is right.
Of course, marathon recovery is different for everyone. Seasoned marathoners should know to listen to their bodies and minds for individual cues on when to get back into it, while novice marathoners should take at least a few days of complete rest in order to recover. Only you will know when the time to return is right!