If you’re asking the question, and are keen to get out, the answer is probably double what you’re thinking! Honestly, you need a good recovery to allow repair (not just muscles but all the way down to cellular levels) and avoid injury, no matter how keen you are.
So how long should you rest for?
This is tricky, because it depends on your level of fitness, previous experience, how hard you ran etc. You may have heard the saying “one day of rest for every mile raced”, but for avid runners who have just raced 26.2 miles, that length of time off can be a scary prospect. Really, there isn’t really a one size fits all formula. The best guide has to be listening to your body. And rest doesn’t have to mean no exercise at all – walking, gentle mobilisation, a little low impact body weight S&C and even some gentle running can be fine.
You may ache – muscular aches (DOMs) will be caused by microscopic muscle tissue damage from challenging your muscles more than they are used to. Don’t run whilst you still have muscle soreness. Muscles, tendons and ligaments will have been pushed to their limits whether you ran your marathon in 3 or 8 hours, and whether you raced it or cruised in comfortably. You have damaged your body by pushing its limits and it needs time to recover or you risk further damage. In addition, studies have shown that the marathon induces inflammation, damage to muscle fibres and cellular damage that can last for more than 7 days – well beyond the length of time you feel muscle soreness for. Let me repeat that – the damage caused by hard training and racing isn’t always noticeable physically. In addition, your immune system will probably be compromised. So, rest is good, necessary, and protective.
But I’ll lose fitness / I want to run / I want to nail a short distance PB….
Resting for 7-10 days will have little impact on your fitness, and will mean you will return a stronger runner. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at the elites…coached by the best coaches in the world, most of them take 2-3 weeks off before running again, with only walks or very short light jogs in that time. Stagger your return to training when you are ready. A timeframe may look like this (bear in mind that this varies considerably from runner to runner):
1-3 days: complete rest (light, short walks, foam rolling etc only)
4-7 days: some light walking, a little conditioning work (without weights)
8-14 days: Come back with a 1-4 x 5 minute runs at a very easy effort within a walk . Check how you are feeling, any niggles or aches? If all good then try an easy effort 1-4 miles at a very easy effort. Take a rest day in between each run and increase slowly. When you feel ready (after 3-4 runs at least), try a few strides in one of your easier runs to see how your legs cope at a slightly harder pace (these should be no longer than 15 seconds).
If you follow these rough guidelines, listen to your body and err on the side of caution in the first 14 days, you should then be ready to get back to normal training in the third week after your marathon.
So even if you hate putting your training on pause, or you’re desperate to capitalise on your fitness and set some new PBs, or to set the world right after a bad race, take the time to rest and recover fully. Your body (and mind) will thank you for it, and you will return stronger than before, and physically and mentally ready for your next challenge.
How long do you take off after a marathon? Are you looking forward to running or racing again? Have you already booked your next race?
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