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Running a marathon can be one of the greatest and most challenging experiences of your life. I can’t say that I always love training for these races, but the feeling of accomplishment I experience when I cross the finish line is like no other. That feeling is what keeps me (and a lot of other marathoners) coming back again and again.
It’s easy to put all of your focus on preparing for the race, training to be able to complete the 26.2 mile distance. But what about after the race is over? It’s important to create a post-marathon recovery plan that gives your body the rest it needs while allowing you to maintain the fitness level you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
There are different schools of thought about the best way to recover in the days and weeks after a marathon. Some experts suggest one day of rest for each mile run, which would mean no strenuous running for at least 26 days. Others think that’s too long, and you really need just a week or two of rest before resuming activity. In my experience, we all recover at different rates. What’s important is to develop a recovery plan that works best for you, based on a few basic principles.
Just as your marathon taper was probably a little scary, the idea of resting in the days after the race might be a little discomforting for some. But rest is important and essential after such a physical feat. You will not lose your fitness level overnight—or even within a couple of weeks. Rest doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch all day; in fact, that could make any discomfort and soreness worse. Going for a light walk followed by gentle stretching can ease muscle soreness and make you feel more comfortable. Stay moving with active recovery, but keep it easy and low-intensity.
Don’t use this recovery time as an excuse to eat lots of junk food. It’s okay to recognize a job well done with your favorite hot fudge sundae if that’s what you choose, but remember that good nutrition enhances recovery. Giving your body the nutrients it needs helps aid in muscle repair and regrowth. You may find your appetite is a little higher in the hours or few days following a marathon, so listen to what your body needs without going overboard.
When you do decide to ease back into running, start with a short, easy run that’s no more than a few miles long. Pushing yourself too hard can end up delaying the recovery process even further.
Incorporating more cross-training into your routine, especially over the first few weeks, is a good way to give your running muscles a rest while still keeping your fitness level up. Discover the best cross-training activities for runners.
Listen to your body. What works for one person might not work for another. While your friend might be able to get back to running within a week or two, you may need two or three weeks—and that’s okay. We all recover differently depending on our bodies and fitness levels.
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.
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