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When to Start Running after a Marathon

February 16, 2017

When to Start Running after a Marathon


After a marathon, most runners do one of two things:  start running again too soon and risk injury, or take more than enough time off, digging a deep fitness hole.  When should you start running again after a marathon?   

1 Week Mandatory
After racing 26.2 miles, you should take a minimum of 7 days completely off.  No crosstraining, no light running, and no watching your diet.  Not only will this help your body fully recover, but your mind too.  If you had any injury issues during your marathon buildup or as a result of the race, consider taking two weeks completely away from the sport.  While you may feel “rusty” when you return, rest assured those 1 – 2 weeks off will only affect your VO2 max negligibly. 

Active Recovery 4 Weeks Post Race
Once you begin to exercise again approach running as “active recovery.”  Run light and easy, making sure not to stress your body.  A general rule of thumb is that it takes the body 4 weeks, at the cellular level, to recover from the rigors of a marathon.  If the race was performed under especially strenuous conditions, such as high heat or humidity, it may take additional time.

Listen to Your Body
If your body tells you that it doesn’t want to run, listen.  Many people assume they are lacking mental toughness when running doesn’t sound appealing.  However, after a marathon this is very likely your body’s way of telling you to take it easy.  If in doubt, run for 8 – 10 minutes and reassess.  If you do not wish to continue, take it as a sign to give yourself more time off.

Cross Train
If running doesn’t sound enjoyable after a short break, consider your cross training options.  Cycling, swimming, or using the elliptical will help you stay fit while giving your legs a break. 

De-Train to Re-Train
Maintaining peak fitness is not sustainable, from either a physical or mental perspective.  De-training, which is the act of purposely losing fitness, is important for helping muscles heal completely and allowing the body to absorb the effects of training.  By taking time off you also allow your mind to reset and refocus.  You will know you are ready to train again when your mind begins to crave more intense workouts. 

Ramp Up Slowly
Once you are ready to return to running, do not jump right back into normal training.  If your peak mileage is 50 – 60 miles per week, make your first week back 10 – 15 miles.  From there, add 3 – 5 miles per week while you get back into training.  Develop a sufficient base before diving back into speed workouts. 

How Much Fitness will be Lost?
Are you worried that if you take additional time off you will lose your hard earned fitness?  Fortunately, Runner’s Connect has compiled the most recent research on the subject.  Taking up to 30 days completely off from running will only reduce your VO2 max by approximately 12%, so don’t worry if you need a few extra days of recovery. 

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