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The Importance Of Recovery After A Marathon

  • By Jeff Gaudette
  • Published Sep. 26, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 1, 2013 at 6:45 AM UTC

Time Off Won’t Negatively Impact Your Fitness

It’s not hard to persuade a runner that a marathon is difficult on the body. However, it’s quite another to convince the same runner that taking 7 to 10 days off to rest up and recover from their effort won’t hurt their fitness.

The Science Of Rest

Because VO2 max is one of the best measurements of a runner’s physical fitness, it’s the most useful baseline to compare the effect of detraining on your aerobic system. To be brief, VO2 max is an individual’s maximum ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise.

Recent studies show that there is little reduction in VO2max (1-3%) in the first 6-7 days following inactivity in well-trained runners. Furthermore, even after two weeks of not running, studies show that VO2 max decreases by only six percent.

While percentages are fantastic, what do those numbers really mean for runners? Let’s use an example of a 20-minute 5K runner. A 20-minute 5K runner has a VO2max of roughly 49.81 ml/kg/min. After 7-10 days of no running, the hypothetical 5K runner would lose about 3% of his or her VO2 max. Accordingly, after downtime, his or her new VO2max would be 48.49 and he or she would now be in 20:30 shape. While no one wants to drop 30 seconds, after a week of not running a single step, it’s certainly not a big loss and fitness that can be regained very quickly.

Anecdotal Evidence From Elite runners

Luckily, this slight reduction in fitness is easy to gain back. After a marathon, it only takes three to four weeks to return to hard training and near peak racing shape.

Meb Keflezighi might be the best example to illustrate how quickly a runner can return to peak fitness. After the 2012 New York City Marathon, Meb was forced to rest for three weeks due to an untimely foot infection. With just 70 days to prepare for one of the biggest races of his life — the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials — Meb regained his fitness quickly to dispatch one of the most heralded fields in U.S. history and punch his ticket to the London Olympics.

Going further, another injury derailed Meb’s training for two weeks in preparation for the Olympic Games. However, Meb took the needed recovery time to heal and still finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic Marathon.

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FILED UNDER: Recovery / Training TAGS: / /

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Jeff's writing has been featured in Running Times magazine, Endurance Magazine, as well as numerous local magazine fitness columns.

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