One thing rings true whether you are a beginner marathon runner or an experienced multi-finisher. You will be exhausted and fatigued for days after running a marathon that spans 26.2 miles or 40.2 kilometers.
There’s no escaping the aches and pains.
How long does it take to recover from a marathon?
Runners should rest between seven and twenty-six days after completing a marathon. This resting period allows athletes to recover physically and mentally from running a marathon. Rest, in this sense, means less intense training and workouts to enable the body to regain its pre-marathon state.
Some runners may feel disappointed with their finish time and want to start practicing to better their performance in the next race. Others may be so excited about a new personal best that they want to start practicing immediately to improve even more.
There are no exceptions though: all athletes must take time to recover from a marathon.
Why Is The Recovery Period From A Marathon So Long?
The body endures immense challenges over the time it takes to prepare for and run a marathon. Therefore, runners should avoid strenuous exercise after running a marathon allowing the body time to recuperate fully.
The time runners need to recover depends on the muscle soreness and discomfort experienced after the event. The better you prepare for a marathon, the less muscle soreness you will likely experience after the run. But that’s not a guarantee.
Some races just hurt more than others.
Remember that even if you don’t experience muscle soreness, the cellular damage caused by such a long run needs time to heal.
Body Damage Caused By Running A Marathon
The human body endures various challenges during a marathon, and it is impossible to eliminate the effects running a marathon has on the body. Virtually all physiological systems face severe challenges when running a 26.2-mile race.
The harder you push yourself in trying to achieve a personal best, the more damage you are likely to sustain. This risk is amplified if you have failed to train properly for the marathon.
The following physiological areas experience strain and could be damaged when running a marathon requiring adequate rest post-marathon to recover.
- Skeleton muscle damage, especially to the calve muscles, causes inflammation within the muscles. The inflammation may lower muscle durability and strength if not given enough time to heal.
- Damage on a cellular level is not always noticeable. The lack of experiencing sore muscles after a marathon is not an indication that cellular damage did not occur. Runners must allow their bodies enough time to recover from cellular damage.
- A compromised immune system, brought on due to extensive training and running the marathon, cannot protect against colds and flu. In addition, not taking enough rest to give the immune system time to recover will lead to challenges later. It may cause interference with training programs and lead to unnecessary downtime.
Tips For A Productive Post-Marathon Recovery
No matter if you just finished your umpteenth marathon or attempted your first, the same rules apply to all marathon runners. After a marathon, you need to take time to rest, allowing your body to recuperate.
The recovering process actually starts well before the starting gun of the marathon. Listening and attending to your body’s needs will go a long way in recovering quicker and more successfully.
Following are ways in which to assist the body when recuperating. Before, during, and after the marathon.
- The night before the marathon. Opt for a balanced meal containing proteins and carbohydrates. Hydrate adequately.
- On the morning of the marathon, you must eat a light breakfast and keep hydrating – not eating is likely to have disastrous effects. Avoid having too much coffee or tea containing caffeine as it counters hydration.
- Before the race, light exercises and dynamic stretches activate and warm up the muscles.
- During the marathon, remember to hydrate. Only hydrate when you are thirsty. There is no need to hydrate at every water station.
- After the marathon, it is essential to cool down immediately. Take a 30-minute walk. Walking keeps the blood flowing that replenishes the muscles with oxygen and nutrients. Massaging the muscles, walking, and stretching aid in limiting painful cramps.
- Change into dry clothing and shoes. Muscles tend to tighten up when they cool. Use a warm towel or blanket to warm the muscles and reduce soreness.
- Hydration is key. Keep hydrating after the marathon. Hydrating flushes the build-up toxins and breaks down metabolic and tissue from the system. It is essential to keep your body hydrated for at least a week post-marathon.
- Eating healthy, balanced meals containing healthy proteins and complex carbohydrates will further assist with recovery.
- Rest remains the best way to recover. Stay active doing gentle impact exercises. Yoga, cycling, swimming, and light jogging are excellent options to keep the body functioning.
- Increase activity levels gradually and slowly. Only exercise as much as your body will tolerate.
Things To Consider During Recovery
It is essential to remember that everyone’s recovery time after running a marathon differs.
People do not recover at the same rate. A person’s age, gender, health, and overall fitness also impact the recovery time. Therefore, recovery programs should consider the needs of every individual to ensure the best outcome.
Why Is Rest So Important?
There are advantages when taking one day a week off from training. First, the body uses that rest day to rebuild and perform better during the next training session.
The body rebuilds itself in the following ways and areas.
- Running causes microscopic tears in muscles which the body can only rebuild with enough time off from exercising.
- Rest aids in avoiding the risk of developing stress fractures by allowing the body time to rebuild.
- Tendons keep the muscles attached to the skeleton. Therefore, the overuse of tendons may cause tendinitis. Tendinitis is the inflammation of tendons and can only heal with rest.
- Even though exercise is a great stress reliever, our brain does not differentiate between running out of fear or running for pleasure. The brain then constantly releases a stress hormone which can become troublesome. The body needs rest to balance these hormones and calm the brain.
Runners find it exceedingly difficult to take time off their training programs to rest and allow their bodies to heal – often running through both illness and sore muscles.
Therefore, recovery time should always be planned for and adhered to when setting up training programs for marathons.