Running a marathon can take a huge toll on your body, as the physical act of being on your feet for hours at a time requires strength, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity and tons of willpower. So if you’re someone who just ran the Philadelphia marathon (or New York City, or Chicago, or Los Angeles) you may be wondering: How long should you rest after a marathon?
While there are tons of training plans and regimes to help you tackle those 26.2 miles, there are unfortunately way less “recovery plans” or programs — only very expensive recovery tools. To help out runners looking for recovery advice, I turned to the latest research studies to find out.
One of the best ways to determine how your body is recovering is to measure the response of your blood biomarkers. While this isn’t feasible for everyone, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research analyzed blood levels of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), creatine kinase (CK), high-sensitivity troponin T (hs-TNT) and C-reactive protein (CRP) in 86 runners 24 hours before a marathon, immediately after the race, and 24, 48, 96, and 144 hours post-race.
Lactate dehydrogenase, an indicator of tissue damage, normalized after 192 hours, or 8 days. Creatine Kinase, another indicator of muscle damage, peaked at three hours post race and normalized after 144 hours, or six days. High-sensitivity troponin T, used to detect cardiac tissue damage, normalized after 96 hours or 4 days.
The first three biomarkers normalized after 8 days, but C-reative protein, a biomarker for inflammation, reached its peak at 24 hours post race, and despite decreasing slightly, it was still high 8 days after the marathon.
So, what does this all mean?
Although everybody (and everybody’s body) is different, researchers of this study suggest run coaches should avoid scheduling training sessions that elicit more muscle damage — including running and strength training — during the immediate 96 hours, or four days, after a marathon. As creatine kinase levels are only just starting to decrease, athletes are at a risk of developing rhabdomyolysis if they push themselves too hard. If you’re a workout junkie or just need to move in the week after your race, aim for something low-key and low-impact, like a yoga flow or a float in the pool.
Runners can also expect to experience inflammation for more than a week after the marathon — which means your body isn’t ready to dive back into an intense training program just yet. To avoid chronic inflammation, you’ll want to continue to take it easy and give your body the rest it needs (and deserves!) for up to two weeks. Stressing your body and extending the life of inflammatory biomarkers can have negative effects on your muscle’s ability to heal, and your immune system.
It would be nice to know when C-reative protein levels actually normalized in this sample size, but that’s just one limitation of this study. And while its findings are consistent with previous research, it’s important to remember this is also just ONE study, with a specific demographic of runners. It’s important to listen to your own body, especially as you ease back into workouts after a respectable time off.
So, now that you know how long your body takes to return to baseline, it’s time to determine how to be proactive about your recovery. There’s another study (and post) for that.
Bernat-Adell MD, Collado-Boira EJ, Moles-Julio P, et al.. Recovery of Inflammation, Cardiac, and Muscle Damage Biomarkers After Running a Marathon. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2021; 35 (3): 626-632. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003167.