I have talked about this before. I have stressed the importance of taking a break from running after a season, and I truly believe this is the case not just for marathons, but your body needs a recovery period after any big race.
For ANY runner at ANY distance, you should not really go more than MAX 6 months without some time off, but it is especially important to rest after half marathon or marathon races so your body can heal and repair.
And no, I do not mean taking a week off where you cross train like a madman. Your muscle recovery time will be longer that way, okay, not as long as if you kept running, but for the best recovery, just take the time off!
Returning to running after a break will go much more smoothly (and will be more enjoyable) if you have given your body time to repair first.
Even if you were injured for a long time, and you feel like you had that time off with your injury, unless you had complete rest, you still kept training, your body was still stressed, and you need it EMOTIONALLY.
Honestly, for me, that is it. Almost more than physically, the biggest part of the post marathon recovery is taking time off to live your life “as a normal person” a few times a year.
Emotionally, if you want to make a quick recovery and avoid ending up overtrained, it is good for you to step away from running and just be who you are.
Not Tina the runner, but to be Tina the sister, the friend, the artist, the hiker.
Stop worrying about muscle recovery foods, and start doing whatever you enjoy doing, other than running.
Be the person you are other than the runner.
Get that pedicure your poor little toes are begging for with your mum, go shopping with your sister, enjoy that massive slice of cheesecake with a friend you have not seen in a while, play tag with your child.
Do some things that you have been putting off or not had time for. Use your usual running time as your “me” time to do what you want to do!
I am sure if you do not currently take time off, you will have a few different responses:
Let’s start with the big one. The one that I am sure most of you are thinking;
Will I lose all my fitness if I stop running after my race? I don’t want to lose what I have worked so hard for!
Yes and no.
Yes, of course it is inevitable that you will lose some of your fitness. You will not be able to jump into a race after your time off and run a PR. It will take your body a few weeks to a month to get back to health.
But, you will come back STRONGER. Your body will not forget all the training you just did, and there are very minimal decreases in fitness during 7-10 days off.
Steve and I talked about how to explain this with an analogy. We could not come up with one that explained it perfectly, but look at it this way.
Think of you and your training as a house. If you keep making additions/extensions to the house, year after year, eventually the foundations of that house, can no longer support the weight, and it will come crashing down.
Each training cycle you do is adding that extra stress to your body, and if you do not take some time to go back to basics, back to the start, you are risking something really serious going wrong…..which will take an extended period to heal, meaning you really do lose everything you worked for, rather than just making it even stronger.
This article from Runners Connect explains the scientific side of time off and how much fitness you will lose more than I can, if you do not believe me that you will not lose much.
I bet elites do not take time off. After a half marathon how much rest do they take?
Actually, they do.
If my two weeks off I am taking is not enough proof for you with my two weeks, take confidence in this.
My friend Neely Spence Gracey (first American at Boston) is in the middle of her two weeks off after her marathon.
My training partner Sarah Crouch (second at Boston) is listening to her body and taking 3 weeks off after her marathon.
Almost every elite I know takes time off after a marathon.
The most exercise this will involve is maybe a hike, a gentle swim, but certainly nothing that could be considered cross training.
I am not an elite, or push my body as hard, therefore my recovery from marathon will be quicker
Okay. I get this one.
Yes, we definitely do push our bodies to the absolute max. We do dedicate our lives to our training during the peak part of the season, so yes, we may be a little more burned out and need that break emotionally, BUT that does not mean your body doesn’t need it.
You are out there day after day getting it done.
You are pushing yourself both physically and mentally for months on end.
It doesn’t matter who you are, marathon training is a grind, it beats you down, it tests your patience, your commitment, your love of the sport, and for that, your body and mind deserve a rest.
Now, you may be thinking, “yeah, but you put so many more miles on your legs than I do”
True. I do.
That doesn’t mean you are not training hard. Your body still needs the rest, and actually research has found that recreational runners are actually more likely to suffer from overtraining than elite runners!
Trust me, that is not something you want to end up doing.
Overtraining can be worse than an injury as your body just completely shuts down, and you can take MONTHS to get back to normal (including extended periods of time with no running).
Isn’t it better to be proactive and take a few days off now?
Please believe me when I say that you DO need this, and I promise you, you WILL feel better afterwards. You will feel rejuvenated, excited to get back to it, and a new appreciation for running.
I feel great. Do I really need to follow the same post marathon recovery?
Okay, you may get over the initial soreness within a few days, and expect that, its natural right? But did you forget that you just put your body through 3-4 months of intense training, pushing it to the limit, some days you were so tired that you could barely keep your eyes open in the evening.
Then you teased it with a little rest, thinking it was done with all this hard stuff, but no, you then push it to the absolute max in a race, a 26.2 mile slog where those last 6 miles really do some serious damage.
All of that impacts your body, and means that even if you are not feeling the effects, your body is still in a bit of a crisis mode while it repairs itself.
Have you ever noticed you often get sick after a big race?
That is because your body is crying out for help. It is run down, and feels like it can finally relax and repair itself.
I want to avoid gaining weight
I probably should have put this one first, as I am sure this is the biggest one, and trust me, these thoughts go through my head too.
I like how lean and strong I look.
I like that I can eat whatever the heck I want.
I like eating, and do not want to have to cut down on it.
I am sure there are 100 other responses, and those are just a few that pop into my mind, but I have talked before about how important I think it is to gain weight after a marathon, and I will say it again.
Yes, those thoughts do cross your mind, and they cross my mind every day of those 2 weeks. I know I will gain weight, and I know mentally, I will struggle with it a little.
But then your body has a starting point, it can relax a little and recover before you build it back up again, before those muscles get sore again.
Well, over the course of the training season, I trained hard, and I fueled my body correctly (without restricting- more on that later), and I leaned down. Probably to the leanest weight I have ever been.
But that is not a healthy weight for my body. That is going to put my body in stress, and after my time off, my body usually ends up sitting around 118-120, which is its “happy” weight I think.
There you go, I have given you my numbers, and shown you that it is okay to fluctuate, to gain around 10lbs, as your body will naturally lose that weight as you train.
No need to panic, it is healthy 🙂
Oh, and enjoy dressing up a little! Stay out of those running clothes, and use this time to wear those new clothes you bought 6 months ago that are now collecting dust as running clothes are just so much easier. Straighten your hair. Enjoy some of those foods you have been avoiding for months.
So what am I telling you to do? How much rest do you need?
Well, that is going to depend on your personal situation.
For me, I am taking two full weeks. In the past I have taken as little as 5 days, but that tended to be after shorter races. After the marathon, I take at least a week, but this time, I know I need two weeks.
I would recommend that you take 7-10 days off running completely, or if you get itchy, take the 7 days off completely and then cross train (lightly!!) for 3 days.
You should rest, but going for a leisurely walk with your family will bring you a new sense of reality, you will notice things you never usually would running, you will cherish that time to get into deep conversations, and you will get the fresh air that our bodies so desperately crave.
My good friend and mentor, Nick Anderson told me that you should wait until you are considering sneaking out the door to run, then take another 4-5 days off. That is how you decide how long you need.
Yes, many runners will get itchy feet within a few days, miss running, and that is okay, but try to use the time, energy, and love for your relationships with friends and family. At the end of the day, those are truly what matter the most in life, and you will feel so much happier if you work on those during this time.
Use this time as an emotional recharge, and you will come back excited to run, with less of those days that you struggle with motivation.
Think we could be friends?
I am always this honest, real, raw. If this article speaks to you, I really believe we could be friends and I could help you with what you are working through. Drop your email below, and I will reach out to you
So what’s stopping you?
No, really. Tell me what stops you from time off, I am curious, and I really hope that after your next race, you WILL take time off. Your body and especially your mind, will thank you.