April, May and June are huge marathon months in the U.S. Seasoned marathon runners know exactly how much time it takes for their bodies to recover from a grueling marathon race. However,marathon popularity is skyrocketing and many newbies are added to the ranks with each passing season. This article will try to answer how much recovery time is needed after a marathon has been completed.
Science and Advice
There is not much scientific study on the subject of after-marathon recovery, but there is expert medical advice and plenty of professional marathon runners who can offer advice from personal experience. It seems the rule of thumb is that it takes around 3-4 weeks to fully physically recover from a marathon.
Exercise physiologist at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, Dr. Timothy Noakes, says a popular way to calculate recovery time is to look at the number of race miles. If you run a 12 mile race then it would take that many days to recover. However, this notion of one day of recovery for each mile ran started to gain popularity in the 1970’s, and there is now a great deal more information available to contest that theory.
Some scientifically based information exists concerning muscle glycogen replenishment, which is the primary fuel used by the body for long distance races. Exercise physiologist Hirofumi Tanaka from the University of Texas says consuming protein and carbohydrates after a race will help replenish glycogen levels within 24 hours, but this only a short-term solution and doesn’t address long-term recovery issues.
Studies do show that it takes about 1 week for muscles to stop aching and return to full strength after a marathon. However, just because your muscles are not hurting doesn’t mean you can go run another marathon right away.
There is the issue of “detraining” which occurs when you can’t train because of sore muscles. Detraining affects one’s ability to participate in the next race. Dr. Edward Coyle, who also works at the University of Texas, says that in one study it took men three full weeks to get back to top running speed after they had been down due to “detraining” for a week. Those who took a full month of detraining to recover didn’t get back to top form for two months.
Psychological strength and sharpness is also a large player in marathon runners recover time. Quite a few elite marathon runners only participate in one or two races a year because they find it takes a full 6 months to recover mentally in order to face the grueling demands of the next race.
However, this is a ballpark figure since recovery results are subject to the individual and the fact that the longer the race the more time it could take to recover both physically and mentally. Dr. Noakes (of the University of Cape Town above) was a marathon runner and it took him up to 18 months to mentally recover from a 55 mile (90 kilometer) race before he was psychologically ready to tackle another. Other professional runners can run more frequently, needing only 3-4 weeks to recover mentally.
Bottom line is to closely gauge yourself after a marathon race. Look at your physical preparedness and your mental outlook to determine when you’re ready to run again. Probably the best advice comes from Tom Fleming, a running coach with decades of running experience. Tom says that being fully recovered is when you reach the point that you are ready to mentally and physically perform at your best level, however long that may take.