Will I lose fitness by taking weeks off after my marathon?
It’s a concern for nearly every runner I’ve encountered in the months post marathon where we’re battling the post race blues, attempting to run on legs that feel like cider blocks and craving those runner endorphins…plus throwing in our own weird psychology that the time off means we’re no longer fit.
Did you know that most elite runners take off at least a month post marathon? (Here are some other facts about running.)
They don’t expect to maintain peak fitness year round and neither should you! Let’s talk about how to not lose the gains you’ve made, reclaim your motivation without that massive goal and keep running strong.We talk a LOT about how to build up to the marathon. The long runs, the pre-race meals, the hip work, but what happens after the big day? Ok fine, I’ve covered the immediate post race recovery, but let’s look at the weeks beyond that.
I can’t lie one of the reasons I limit myself to 1 marathon a year and often say I won’t do them is the 2-3 weeks of no running after a race.
It’s completely necessary and I think that break helps remind us why we love running.
But it’s also an INTERRUPTION to what has become a really good habit. Suddenly you don’t have to get up early to run and those weekends of sleeping in start to feel really wonderful.
I fully believe the post race recovery is often to blame for people doing one marathon and done! They lose the habit and with that goes the motivation, the drive.
Now let’s move on to the question at hand…will you lose fitness and how do you stay sane when you really want to go for a run?
Why You Need Weeks Off Running Post Marathon
It’s definitely a shock to think you feel good and have energy then attempt to run and feel like your body is going to come apart at the seams. As though you can actually see the wheels falling off and are wondering if the emergency feature on your phone really works.
Post Honolulu, Jodi texted me nearly daily asking if it was ok to run yet. And I patiently said no, repeatedly. Finally I agreed that she could test it out, but I warned her…oh did I warn her.
She reported back that it was categorically awful and mind blowing and why the hell didn’t anyone say that recovery was going to be so hard! “I had no idea how tough it would be. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but this shocks me. “
It’s so true..the aftermath.
What’s happening to your body in those days post marathon?
Every step you take is the equivalent force of 2-3 times your bodyweight, and it’s estimated you’ll finish the race two cm shorter than you were at the start.
No seriously, read that again… you actually finish shorter! Does that give you a better idea of the pounding your skeleton is taking and your muscles to hold it all together?
DOMS Will Catch You By Surprise
Delayed onset muscle soreness usually starts one to three days after hard physical activity and is part of the bodies recovery process, not lactic acid as previously believed. This is why you suddenly can’t get up after sitting down on the toilet “ahhh my quads!”
Some runners believe that taking a short run the day after the marathon helps with this, but most folks I know are too damn tired. Instead follow my post race guide tips for taking walks…yes walks. You’ve got the medal to prove your a runner, no one will take away your status for walking.
Inflammation Needs to Be Addressed
The rest phase is important to allow inflammation caused by muscle tears and stress (physical and emotional) of the race to begin dissipating. Hence the overall body fatigue you might feel as all your bodily resources are trying to get you back to homeostasis.
Once you’ve enjoyed that post race splurge meal, it’s time to get back to all the anti-inflammatory foods and keeping your activity chill for awhile.
Dehydration Lingers Post Race
No matter how much you try to hydrate during the race, most still come away somewhat depleted and the recovery phase is a time for muscles, digestion and everything to recuperate. Dehydration will make you feel sluggish and could cause muscle cramps.
Don’t forget that your electrolytes remain important post race as well, to help fully replenish those muscles.
Ouchies Need to Heal
For lack of a technical term this encompasses the blisters, chaffing and potential lost toenails that are going to make your attempts at running painful. Just because you want to run, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! Blisters that keep getting popped can lead to infections…chafing that just keeps rubbing becomes unbearable even when not running.
Great now, you have the knowledge to talk yourself down when you start getting itchy to run before you should! So let’s give your brain some other ways to embrace the running break.
How to Stay Fit Post Marathon
If you followed a great training plan for the marathon and didn’t simply wing it or endure months of injuries prior to the race, you should come out of it with a very strong training base.
Which means a very strong cardiovascular system, strong muscles and some mental fortitude.
I love these two thoughts from Meb for Mortals because I fully agree:
- most runners should be able to take off at least 3 weeks without any loss in fitness gains
- don’t allow this to become a break in your training, just a shift.
What does that mean?
It means you’ve developed a routine, a habit that’s now just part of your life.
You make time for runs, you fuel right, you stretch, you foam roll…if you stop all of these for 2-3 weeks, can you imagine how hard it will be to start again?
Don’t tempt fate. Keep moving…just not running.
Keep a Schedule
Get up at the same time. Exercise at the same time you used to run. Maybe it’s a walk or just foam rolling, but keeping the habit alive will make it easier to either cross train or come back to running when ready.
Build a Stronger Foundation
Really and truly this piece is the key to maintaining your fitness…doing things besides running.Enjoy walking, swimming, yoga, checkout these strength training for runner workouts, work your upper body!
Now is when you can finally commit to some time for all the cross training that you so skillfully ignored during those big marathon training weeks. By focusing on strength training, core work and mobility now, you’ll go in to your next round of training stronger.
In fact, a few different studies have shown us that by creating the muscle first, you’re more likely to maintain more of it during marathon training which often leads those coveted six pack abs.Motivate Yourself
Ok so you can’t have the running endorphins, but you can still get psyched about your return to running and keeping that spark alive is going to help.
- read books on running or athlete biographies or blogs
- jump on Instagram and cheer for others
- start thinking how this time is going to make you a better runner
Relax the Drive
Don’t expect to feel or run the same way you did during training right way. Allow yourself to build back!!
I swear this is the way so many runners get injured. You ran an 8 minute mile on race day, so suddenly that should be your new easy pace…nope. Remember the build up to that day, you’re always going to need that process to get stronger and stay injury free.
This is your chance to put aside the clock and remember exactly why you love running…and put together a plan to make your next race even better.
Enjoy your cross training time and allow yourself to ease back in to intense training with the knowledge that while it might be hard at first you haven’t actually lost anything.
Bonus: Still feeling just a little off after coming down from the race day high or maybe because it didn’t go as planned? That’s totally normal! Checkout tips for combating the post race blues
What’s your favorite thing about post marathon recovery time?
How long do you take off after a race?
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