July 11, 2012

How long does it take to recover from a marathon?

Today I am still incredibly sore from my lifting session on Monday night. I guess psyching myself up to do well beforehand really does help! On the downside, I was planning to lift again this morning, but didn’t really want to do it when I was already so sore that I was waddling instead of walking normally. As the day has gone on, the soreness has eased up at least a bit, so my plan is to lift tonight instead. Sometimes it’s definitely better to be flexible instead of sticking to a plan!

I’ve been doing everything right in terms of recovery – making sure I get an adequate amount of protein (but not too much), drinking a lot of water (especially after indulging a bit in last night’s birthday dinner at Smoke, one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Dallas), and also getting a good night’s rest. This morning, for the first time in months, I woke up to find that my smartphone sleep app actually had a net negative sleep debt over the last 10 days! Despite being sore, I woke up feeling surprisingly good and not foggy at all. Hmm, maybe there is something to those hundreds of studies that talk about how getting just the right amount of sleep is critical!

While I’m no expert on how to recover from weight lifting, I recently wrote an article on Greatist about marathon recovery. Let me tell you, I got really excited about this assignment! I often debate back and forth with friends about how long it really takes to recover from a marathon. I seem to recover a lot faster than most people, but I assumed that I was either some freak of nature, that most people don’t allow themselves to get used to the distance by doing enough long runs, or (most likely) that I am kind of lazy and don’t push myself to go as fast as I should during a marathon.

As I researched and drafted the article, we ended up making quite a few tweaks to it. While it originally started out as how long does it take to recover, that was a pretty tough article to write – studies are mixed and every single person’s body is different. Instead, I ended up focusing the article on tips for how to recover from a marathon – which is a lot more standard.

However, in the process of changing the focus of the article, we didn’t mention a study that I found myself incredibly fascinating. In a totally awesome study done in 1988, four elite marathon runners had their VO2 max tested every other day for the month before and after a big marathon. while admittedly a small sample size, no difference was found in the VO2 max or levels of hematocrit, blood hemoglobin, and plasma protein, cortisol, lactate and norepinephrine post-marathon. The study authors’ conclusion? “Following a period of sufficient recovery from muscle soreness, oxygen delivery and utilization mechanisms remain intact after marathon running.” To take away all the science-y-ness of that: after you run a marathon, barring muscle soreness, your body is just as ready to run another. Um, wow!

Of course, muscle soreness is no walk in the park – as I’m still experiencing today. But I still found this study so interesting. It is really phenomenal to see what the human body is capable of with enough preparation, and this study seems to show that the physiological limits of the body are higher than we think post-marathon. Will we see Meb and Shalane running back-to-back marathons one weekend after the other? Probably not, given how their training schedules are designed and given the incredibly high stakes if there were to get injured. But perhaps it’s a little more possible than we might otherwise think!

How long does it take you to recover from a marathon? From running in general? From weight lifting? I know so little about the latter; I’d love to hear your best tips!


3 thoughts on “How long does it take to recover from a marathon?”

  1. There are a couple markers that can be highly elevated after a marathon – plasma creatine kinase, troponin, cortisol, amongst others that if elevated for too long can cause heart and kidney issues / failure. A lot depends on the athlete’s medical history, level of training, age, stress response, etc. Marathons aren’t exactly an easy feat nor are they without somewhat serious risks. There’s some new research which details the PK creatine connection in endurance sports.

    And with lifting, unless you’re doing a 4 day split, every other day (48 hrs rest) is best for muscle recovery.

  2. Great article – I read that one and the sleep on our loud to my husband! lol I am surprised to hear that you basically can run another marathon right after each other. I definitely felt crappy for about 3 weeks after the marathon. Maybe its cause also it was my first one. i think once you run that distance over and over again your body gets used to it. Kind of like how when I first ran a half marathon I was so sore but now usually I am not sore after.

  3. Before I joined Marathon Maniacs, I used to give myself about a week to gradually ease back into normal training, and I waited 4 weeks before doing another marathon.

    Now I’m a little smarter about recovery. After light cross-training workouts (instead of rest) on the first two days after a race, I’m able to resume training hard on the third day. I’ve also found that I can do all-out marathons on back-to-back weekends.

    Thank you for introducing me to Marathon Maniacs.

    MM 2629.

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