The Beauty of Rest
|April 5, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
Last week, I celebrated my PR in the National Marathon by doing the best thing possible – not running. In fact, for an entire week I didn’t log one single workout….and I loved every minute of it.
I’ve briefly touched on this before, but I believe post-marathon (or post-any training cycle) rest is extremely important to avoiding injury and burn out. So while you’ll hear me do crazy things during training like trying to run through injuries and racing while sick, once that marathon is over, it’s time to start making up for all the months of abuse to my body.
Benefits of Recovery
Photo via Ewen and Donabel
The benefits of recovery are both physical and mental. Giving yourself a break after a marathon can:
- Allow your muscles to rebuild themselves
- Allow any training or race injuries to heal and prevent you from getting new ones
- Help you get over post-marathon fatigue – and leave you feeling energized
- Help you avoid getting sick (it’s normal for your immune system to be compromised after running a marathon)
- Give you a much-needed mental break from the stress of the race and the discipline of the training plan
- Allow you to do things that you might not have had time to do during training (like sleeping in!)
- Give you time to reflect on your amazing accomplishment (I read every single one of your wonderfully encouraging comments no less than 26.2 times. I can’t thank you all enough!!)
- Leave you feeling more motivated to run again (it’s normal to feel unmotivated and to fall out-of-love with running just after a marathon. Giving yourself enough rest can help those feelings go away, and leave you itching to run…instead of dreading or resenting your training.)
Not only that, but not having the pressure to run or stick to a specific schedule can be freeing! It gives you extra time to relax or do something fun, even if that means putting your feet up and catching up on past seasons of Mad Men. And since we all know that showers are really only necessary on days we exercise, think of all the money and time you’ll save by not showering for an entire week!
The Art of Recovery
Recovery looks a little different for everyone. For me, the week after the race also happened to be a very busy one work-wise. I traveled to a week-long training where I spent long days being overloaded with material. At the end of the day, I was exhausted without having run one step. In this case, taking the full week off of running was more necessary than usual (in fact, you may have noticed that I took a break from all things running related – including blogs). But for other runners, just a few days of inactivity can leave them itching to get out the door.
Regardless of what you do the week after your race, you should recognize one very important fact: recovery takes time.
According to McMillan, research has shown that the muscle damage you get from running a marathon can last up to two weeks. You might not be sore for that entire time, but that doesn’t mean your muscles have completely healed. This is why most marathon recovery plans will have you ease back into your normal training load over the course of 4 – 5 weeks, with extra emphasis on taking it easy during the first 2. This “reverse taper” of sorts can be a scary thing for runners. We work so hard to get up to a certain level of fitness, the last thing we want to do is let it slip away and be forced to start over.
I can’t tell you that you won’t lose any fitness. No matter what you do, you’re going to lose a certain amount of the sharpness you had on race day. And unless you do some type of cardio every 2 – 3 days, you might lose some aerobic fitness as well. But don’t get discouraged! By building back up carefully and slowly, you will avoid burnout and be back in race shape in no time!
I think a lot of runners underestimate the power of rest. Most of us would rather be actively doing something than sitting around. It’s easy to see the benefit of every long run, tempo workout, or race. And it can seem counter-intuitive that sometimes not doing those things can actually make you stronger. But the next time you’re tempted to skip out on the recovery and push your body too much too soon, ask yourself this very important question:
Would you rather run today, or run for the rest of your life?
Taking the steps to make sure your body heals is key if you want to be a runner for life (or at least for many, many years). You’re not going to lose everything that you worked for, or gain 10 pounds, or turn into a big blob that never wants to exercise again. As long as you make a plan, you will be back on the roads and ready to race soon, feeling stronger than you have in a long time.
On the Run Again
There are many different post-marathon recovery plans out there. Some (like McMillan) have you doing a couple of easy runs a few days after the marathon. Others suggest you simply cross train and rest that entire first week. The approach you take might be different, based on what works best for you. If you’re in need of some advice about how to ease back into training again, I would suggest looking to the experts. Here are a few that I recommend:
- McMillan’s Marathon Recovery Plan (free) - this plan gives you suggested workouts for just the first 2 weeks post-race. It can be a great place to start.
- Running Times: Marathon Recovery, Part II: Getting Back in the Saddle (free) - this plan covers 6 weeks post-race. It provides workouts for each day along with a little background information about what you should do each week (and why).
- Runner’s World Marathon Recovery Plan ($9.99) – unfortunately this 4 week plan is not free, but it does come with extra coaching and RW benefits
- Kick-Back Plan (free) – another take on training recovery from an NCAA cross country and track coach. This 5 week plan isn’t specific to marathons, but is for the end of any training cycle when you’ve put a lot of stress on your body. It has a heavy focus on rest and slowly easing back into tough workouts.
Don’t fear the rest. Embrace it! Everyone deserves to be a little lazy once in awhile.