It’s one of the biggest running mistakes an athlete can make: not taking enough time off after completing a marathon.
According to Jeff Gaudette, a 2:22 marathoner and running coach at RunnersConnect, many runners fear their fitness will decrease if they stop working out or miss a few runs. And aside from that fear, for some it’s a deep-seeded love for the sport that makes it difficult to take some time off.
“Not taking enough time to fully recover after a marathon often leads to overtraining and injuries,” Gaudette explained. “Not only does resting for seven to ten days have little negative impact on your current fitness, the long-term gains will outweigh any temporary reduction in fitness.”
In other words, taking a break after running a marathon is imperative. Most coaches and elite runners suggest resting completely for at least one week, even if you don’t feel sore.
“Year after year I talk to runners who tell me they are ‘ready to go’ on the Thursday after a marathon,” Gaudette said. “The soreness may have subsided or even gone completely, but you are not recovered. Sometimes, soreness, or lack thereof, isn’t the best indicator that you’re recovered.”
So how much time off is really needed?
Your first week after a marathon should be dedicated to resting completely, meaning no exercise at all. If you feel overly antsy, Gaudette says very light jogs or easy walks are acceptable, but don’t push yourself.
After the first week, if you feel up to it, you can return to training at a very easy effort for the next two weeks.
“I suggest most runners go for an easy jog of no more than fifteen minutes, every other day, post marathon,” Gaudette said. “After two weeks you can move to running daily.”
If you want to see long-term improvements in your performance, it’s critical that you allow your body the proper amount of time to recover from the tissue damage that results from both training for and racing a marathon.
Of course, if you’re like most runners, you’re probably wondering what you can do now that you’re going to have a whole bunch of free time on your hands.
“This is a great time to explore new things with friends, and try out some other cross training ideas,” Gaudette said. “Ideally, you should give your body up to a week of no exercise at all, but if you do feel like you want to try some new things, this is the perfect time.”