As finishers crossed the line of this year’s Dublin marathon they promised themselves never to put their bodies, minds and families through it again. The race was long and arduous – and the training took hundreds of hours over several months. All the questions and doubts have been answered, the relief was welcomed and the pain and the effort were over. The extraordinary levels of self-sacrifice, dedication, and time management were ended. But by the point they picked up their post race banana and finishers t-shirt they were planning their next race so they can again ask themselves more questions……. Can I ……Could I…..? Will I?
After a great race – you want to capitalize on your fitness and continue to set new personal bests, after a disappointing race, the last thing on your mind is resting; rather, you want revenge and you’re anxious to get back racing as soon as possible. But before running again, marathoners need to allow their bodies and minds to recover from the tremendous physical and psychological accomplishment of running 26.2 miles. Denying the body time to fully recover after a marathon often leads to overtraining and injuries. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and every physiological system are challenged when running a marathon. It doesn’t matter if you smashed a personal best or struggled to walk to the finish, 26.2 miles is a long way to go and your body endures tremendous physical pressure, even in the absence of soreness. Both the intensive training and the marathon itself, cause muscle fibre damage that significantly impairs the power and resilience of the musculoskeletal system. It is clear that muscles are undoubtedly weakened and need extensive recovery times before returning to full training or racing (Hikida et al., 1983) Cellular damage after the marathon is best measured by the presence and production of creatinine kinase (CK) — a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and cardiac tissue — and increased myoglobin levels in the blood stream. CK damage persists for more than seven days post-marathon while the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream can be detected for 3-4 days post race. (Tsai et al., 2001; Smith et al., 2004). The importance of properly recovering is further highlighted by the increased risk of sickness marathoners face caused a drop in immune function during intense training which makes them more vulnerable to infections. (HEATH et al., 1991; Mackinnon, 2000)
But how long does it take to recover? No one really knows, it’s very dependent on the individual, but certainly the evidence from a cellular level suggests 7-10 days of little or no running. The best method to return running appears to be to spend two to three weeks after a marathon doing a reverse taper. Before a race, most athletes taper by gradually decreasing the intensity and duration of their workouts. After a race, do it in reverse. But this is just the body, sometimes the mind can take longer………. But it will recover and you will run again!
HEATH GW, FORD ES, CRAVEN TE, MACERA CA, JACKSON KL & PATE RR. (1991). Exercise and the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 23, 152-157.
Hikida RS, Staron RS, Hagerman FC, Sherman WM & Costill DL. (1983). Muscle fiber necrosis associated with human marathon runners. J Neurol Sci 59, 185-203.
Mackinnon LT. (2000). Chronic exercise training effects on immune function. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32, S369-376.
Smith JE, Garbutt G, Lopes P & Pedoe DT. (2004). Effects of prolonged strenuous exercise (marathon running) on biochemical and haematological markers used in the investigation of patients in the emergency department. Br J Sports Med 38, 292-294.
Tsai K, Hsu TG, Hsu KM, Cheng H, Liu TY, Hsu CF & Kong CW. (2001). Oxidative DNA damage in human peripheral leukocytes induced by massive aerobic exercise. Free Radic Biol Med 31, 1465-1472.