5 Reasons Why You (Yes, You!) NEED 1-2 Weeks off Running After a Marathon

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!

Now:

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 2016) is in the middle of her two weeks off after her marathon.

Neely Tina Dayna

My training partner Sarah Crouch (second at Boston 2016) 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.

BUT

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.

Tina Steve Ice Cream

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.

Tina Jess

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.

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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.

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22 Comments.

  • You have NO IDEA how badly I needed to read this! I have my big triathlon on May 15 and then I leave on a two week trip to Italy on May 19. I planned it that way, so I could have some time off, but now I’m so scared thinking about how I will “only” be able to run during those two weeks and I barely since it will be time with my family. But, when I return, I have 10 weeks until triathlon nationals. I keep thinking – is that enough time? How much fitness will I lose? How can I not bike or swim for two whole weeks????? So, THANK YOU for this and now, I’m off to read the RC article too 🙂

  • carla birnberg
    May 2, 2016 5:53 am

    Ooooh. I’m reading. I’m note taking. I’m actually doing a full!!!

  • This is a great post Tina and you are absolutely right. I like to take a break twice a year or so. After my marathons, I couldn’t even move for a couple of weeks. I was so mentally fed up with training that I didn’t want too. I think it was the best decision I made to rest.

  • Mentally 🙁 The fear of the loss of fitness. Have already been out for a while with injury but have been cross training through hoping to retain my fitness although the injury is staying put. I see last years times almost impossible to obtain again so with taking time off this would only delay the process in my head however in reality it would speed it up. I also have nothing else to do (which is sad I know) but I work in fitness and study a degree in sport. To top this, my friends (the few I have) also work in fitness, my life is fitness. Its very hard.

  • I love this, Tina! It’s taken me years to really appreciate the need for good periods of rest, but I also learned the hard way (injuries from coming back too soon!) so it’s something I take seriously too. But I do struggle with it every time, feeling like I want to be doing something!! Thanks for tackling this topic!

  • Melissa@ runningwithjazzhands
    May 2, 2016 8:02 am

    this is awesome and much needed to hear from a serious runner! im a recreational runner, but a busy single mom of two little guys that generally only runs on my lunch break so yes, its so important to take time off and relax! thank you for saying this because even though i already do it, it makes me feel less guilty! im so glad i found our blog 🙂

  • Julie Wunder
    May 2, 2016 8:41 am

    So glad you wrote this! I think this is something many of us need to hear!

  • Enjoy this rest period! Great post:)

  • Allison McArthur
    May 2, 2016 8:50 am

    Great post and I definitely agree. I’m a fairly “average” runner, but I’ve learned that after a marathon my body needs a full two weeks off running otherwise I end up injured. I take one week of complete rest then in the second week some light cross training – usually a half hour swimming or on the bike. To keep me from the temptation of parkrun, I sign up as a volunteer for a couple of weeks. After that, I keep my miles low and slow for a couple of weeks until my body “remembers” what to do.

    Enjoy your well-earned time off 🙂

  • Thank you for this! After Big Sur, my husband and I were still on vacation so I took the entire week off running. We did some hiking at Yosemite but it wasn’t really strenuous. It felt great to just enjoy our trip with no pressure to run. I did a short (4 miler) yesterday and will most likely do just some light running a few times this week. It feels good to be done training for a while.

  • This is a great post, Tina – one that so many runners including myself need to hear. I actually took two weeks off after my first marathon based on what I read on Runner’s Connect, and I’m glad I did. I needed it mentally and physically! Part of me worried about feeling or being perceived as lazy, but I knew at the end it was the right thing to do.

  • So much yes. I have a hard time taking a break when things are going well, but that’s when you need it most. I wish I had been smarter after my marathon because I wouldn’t have ended up in the situation I’m in now where I’ve been injured for months. Had I taken that full rest, I would probably be running healthy and happy right now. So THANK YOU for posting this. So important.

  • I really struggle to get my athletes to believe me when I recommend taking time off after a marathon. Think I’ll have to bookmark this and get them to read it! Thanks for the insight and another great gem from Nick!

  • AWESOME post friend…Oh this post is perfect timing! I am actually take this week to SLOW DOWN not only physically, but emotionally, mentally! I am burnt out and taking this much needed break is going to huge for me. It is just time for a reset. So glad that you are taking your time and enjoying it as well. Definitely go to share this on Facebook later today…You have such a wise old soul…XOXO

  • Yes!! This is so, so important!
    I only rested a few days after my first marathon and then I started a cycle of being burned out and injured and nearly 2.5 years later, I’m just starting to come out of that cycle. I’m sure if I can given myself a true off-season the outcome would have been very different.

  • This has been a fantastic read Tina. I also ran London and for the first time in I think 3-4 years I’ve not exercised in ANY way at all for 8 days and it’s been a revelation! I’ve actually enjoyed it!!!
    I worked hard for London through a tough UK winter and just needed to rest and recover and my body told me that.
    I need to gain weight anyway after suffering from an ED a couple of years ago and which still lingers, that’s not easy when you run so much. But I realise that it will improve my running so to also read your stats has boosted me even more. Thank you so much for a great motivational write. Enjoy relaxing!

  • My coach always has me take 2 full weeks off from running after a big race, and allows just some very easy cross training that will not stress my body. I really enjoy the time to relax, eat all the sweets and spend time doing fun things with friends and family, I am shocked at the number of runners who find it necessary to run just days after a hard marathon. I want my body to keep running marathons until I am 75 years old and rest will help me get there.

  • Thanks for sharing all this Tina, it’s perfect timing for me as I ran the Paris marathon 4 weeks ago & have been resting completely from running since then as I have a suspected stress fracture/hotspot in my foot & am worried about making it worse & wanted to give it a good chance to heal. I’m dying to get bk running as I’m conscious of losing all fitness and gaining too much weight & just cause I miss it. But I feel my foot still needs more time to heal so I’m very conflicted! I’ve also been cycling a lot during this rest period but as you point out, I’ve probably been going at that too hard. Ay, it would make a person crazy!

  • Hi Tina, this is the post I needed to read this morning, I’m running my first marathon next weekend and was already planning what cross-training I could do in the first week after.. The part about overtraining and thinking that because I’m not an elite and am not going to push myself to the max so I won’t need time off is so true… But you’re right, and I’ll focus on enjoying the time off and doing other things before building up my fitness again! Thanks! (Ps. I never comment but LOVE reading all your posts. So I’ll also use this opportunity to say congratulations on your AWESOME London marathon!!!)

  • YES!! I love this so much (I feel like I say that about all of your posts, ha ha! But I am so sincere!!!). So I took 6 solid days off after Boston and it was glorious. I needed it so much and felt grateful for the time off. Then on day #7 I ran and I ran the next day and felt like I was slogging through it. So I took 4 more days off and it was awesome!! By the time I ran again, I couldn’t wait to get out the door. I am really glad I listened to my body and I loved reading your thoughts on this. We do mentally need the break as well as physically. Ohhhh, I know I have gained weight and I keep pushing it out of my head. It doesn’t matter – I know it’ll even out as the running/training picks up again. I hope you are enjoying your well deserved rest my friend!! xo

  • OK, I’m almost 3 weeks post Boston, my first full marathon and my body is definitely still recovering! The soreness wore off within a few days, but when I feel it most is when I try to run! I’ve done about 3-4 short runs (3-4 milers) and my body is slow and sluggish! Also, I’ve definitely gained a few lbs and it’s driving me craaaazy! With that said, I’m SO glad I read your post to hear all this is normal!! But I really am feeling antsy for my body to be ready for some longer runs again, 10-12 milers are my fav! I miss them!

  • Bettina Johnston
    February 17, 2017 5:53 am

    I am so so glad I read this today! What a fantastic post! I really appreciated reading your perspective Tina! I completely agree that we need the break as much mentally as we do physically (arguably I crave the mental break even more!) I ran a half marathon on Sunday and PR’ed and after feeling motivated for an interval session the following day, I felt completely demotivated / burnt out in the days that followed (Tues-Fri). Although I was feeling really agitated and guilty for not exercising at the start, a few days into my rest (and after reading posts like this one) I started to embrace the time off and realise that it’s exactly what my body needs! I’ve decided to give myself the full seven days off (and I’ve been sleeping a lot in that time!) I’ve also noticed that I’m feeling happier and I’m motivated for running again.

    I’ve been an on-off runner for a while now, but six months ago (when I moved overseas) I fully committed to running. I finally got a hold over my injury, which I struggled with for years, and I discovered the supportive instagram running community along the way! Running is my constant and it got me through a really difficult period of change when I moved. I didn’t think I’d ever need time off, and I was also scared that I wouldn’t be able to get back into it after a break; but I want running to be sustainable and part of my life for a very long time!

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