Q: How much time should I take off after running my first marathon before I get back to training again?
A: It's great that you are already thinking about recovery! How soon you start training again after a marathon really depends on how well you recover from the physical stress of the race. The reality is that marathons are tough on the body! Research has shown that cellular and tissue damage, as well as muscle fatigue and soreness resulting from a marathon can take as much as two weeks to heal. Taking enough time to fully recover can help you eliminate ongoing soreness and avoid overuse injuries.
I suggest taking 3-7 days completely off after a marathon. Sleep in, rest, and enjoy your accomplishment! Runners also need to recover mentally, so a little downtime is essential for complete recovery. This is the time to allow your body and mind to rejuvenate.
Over the next 4-7 days, you may add in an active recovery program of cross-training 2-3 times per week. An active recovery aids healing because it helps delivers fresh oxygen and nutrients to muscles and carries away metabolic waste. Start by walking, riding a bike, stretching, or swimming for 30-45 minutes at low intensity to promote circulation and facilitate recovery. Your active recovery may include some running, if you are no longer sore. Just listen to your body. If you are feeling run down or have to force yourself to run, continue cross-training and stay in this active recovery phase for an additional 7-14 days. If the race you've just completed is the last one in your current training cycle, you should feel no rush to return to normal training.
After this phase, you may return to running by doing a "reverse taper" to re-build your mileage. Most marathon training plans follow a three-week taper plan before the race so a simple way to return to training is to follow your taper plan in reverse with lower mileage. Your first weekday runs should be in the 3 to 5-mile range. Easy running is gradually increased over the weeks post-race. Mileage for the first weekend run in this phase could be 3-5 miles at an easy pace. The second weekend run might be 4-6 miles, and for the third weekend run 5-8 miles. Over the next two weeks, gradually increase your volume toward your normal training level. The goal is to develop consistency and build back slowly.
With proper post-marathon recovery, you will start your next training season rested, healed and eager to take your running to the next level. Best wishes!
Catherine Williams-Frank is an RRCA-Certified coach and founder of Run with Endurance Coaching based out of Philadelphia, Pa.