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The Beauty of Rest

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

resting.pngPhoto 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! 😉

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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.

Koli Hyannis

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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
  4. 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.

15 Responses to The Beauty of Rest

  1. Great post! I hope you enjoyed your recovery!
    Cyndi @ Weightless Life´s last post ..Bimbler’s Bash 10K Race Recap

  2. I’m glad to hear you’re embracing the recovery period… and not showering 😉 You’re always SO good about taking time off after a marathon. I think the rest of us could really learn from your example.

    And I’m finally starting to learn that taking some time off from training doesn’t make you any less of a runner.

    • Yes! That’s so true – there are times in life when we have to cut back on running due to the circumstances we’re in. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still a runner. I think it’s all just part of the normal phases of life.

  3. I just wrote a post the other day about how much I hated my 4 day recovery rest from running, but your post made some really good points. What if I want to run today AND for the rest of my life? 😉

    • haha, I don’t think it has to be mutually exclusive!

      And it was really interesting to read your opinion/experience in comparison to mine. Which reinforces the point that everyone is different and one person’s need for rest might not be the same as someone else’s.

  4. So I am definitely not the best at letting my body recover – my mom always reminds me, as you said, that just because you’re not sore doesn’t mean your body is recovered! I need to remember that, after the marathon but also during my taper. I’m finally starting to feel really rested and fresh, and instead of blowing it by doing a hard workout, I want to make sure I am being good to my muscles.
    I’m so glad, especially given all of your stress at work, that you’ve taken this well deserved and needed break from running! I hope work has been a little slower for you this week, so you really get a chance to unwind! Allowing yourself to come back to running when you’re really itching to go is a much better idea than forcing it when you’re still sore and tired.
    Thanks for the links to those recovery plans – I am definitely checking those out starting April 19th :)
    Also, I want to thank you again for your email. I know how overwhelmed you’ve been and I really appreciate you taking the time to help ease my mind and think positively about Boston. You’re awesome and I hope you get a much needed mental break soon!
    Corey @ the runners cookie´s last post ..Brunching at Biltmore

  5. Great post! I’m always really impatient to get back out there after a race and need constant reminders that the body is recovering even if you’re not totally sore. Glad you have taken some much-needed time off to rest up, lady!!
    Kelly´s last post ..Plan B

  6. You give such a great advice! I feel like I’m always learning from you. I took a very long time to bounce back after my first marathon. I was exhausted and needed rest, so it was easy to do nothing. This time it’s been a little harder because after a few days I started feeling like myself and I have a hard time resisting anything that sounds fun like workouts with my aunt. The marathon mind games never end! For now, I work out when I want, but don’t make any special arrangements to fit them in. I have an appointment after work tomorrow, so no need to run. The laid-back approach is very refreshing. And I’m sure you were dying to hear about my daily schedule!

    Thanks for being such a positive example for the rest of us!
    Becky´s last post ..The Group Run

  7. fantastic article! :)
    Jenny @ Fitness Health and Food´s last post ..Body Weight Exercise Strength Workout

  8. Great post! Recovery, both mentally and physically, is sometimes just as important as the workouts you put in! Enjoy it!!:)
    Erin @ Until You Tri´s last post ..I Knew it Would Be Tough…

  9. Great post! Good for you for knowing how important rest is. I hope this work week isn’t so hectic for you!
    Liz´s last post ..Calm Before the Storm

  10. Great advice. Its tough to step back sometimes but the part thatreally stands out for me is “do you want to run today or do you want to run for the rest of your life?”. I definitely want to prevent getting sidelined even if it means taking time away if thats what my body needs.
    Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans´s last post ..Pack- tan- laundrynot necessarily in that order

  11. So glad you are taking this time to rest and recover your body!
    Rach´s last post ..Now that’s a ridiculous hat…

  12. you’re a bad ass runner and smart recoverer. please teach me your ways.

    Emily´s last post ..Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Race Report

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