It’s taken me eight marathons, but I’ve finally learned the restorative power of rest after running 26.2 miles. I’ve known forever that experts recommend not running for a full week after running a marathon, but the semi-addict in me felt that was on par with, oh, holding my breath for a week or not eating for a month. I could make it a day or two without pounding the pavement, but after that the itchy-twitches would overwhelm me. I’d go for a run, despite feeling like I had fence posts for lower limbs instead of legs. From there, I’d jump back into running four, five, or even six times a week, and feel cruddy and lead-legged for almost a month. In those four weeks, hitting marathon pace—forget about tempo or faster—felt like a Herculean effort. (As a mother runner, should I maybe say “Xena-ian” or “Wonder Womanian” instead of Herculean? Just sayin’….)
But this time, post-Boston, real life interjected: I road tripped from Boston to Atlanta, with overnight stops along the way at my parents’ house in Connecticut, my BFF’s home near Washington, D.C., and a friend’s house (and a book reading) in Charlotte, N.C. I had to be packed up and on the road by 9 a.m. every day, and the allure of sleeping until 7:30 every day (hey, it was only 4:30 Pacific….) was overwhelmingly appealing. It was as if the oppressive heat of marathon day had fried my compulsive circuits: I felt no guilt or angst as day after day passed with no exercise (and no shower). Quite the opposite: I felt proud that I was taking the prescribed rest days, in addition to not trying to cram too much into already busy days (hello, 9-hour drive from Maryland to Charlotte) and to optimizing the time I spent with family and friends along the way.
After nine days on the road, I finally landed back home. I awoke well before dawn, and worked until the sun started to rise. Then, for the first time in a week—since Marathon Monday—I clasped my sports bra, pulled on a running skirt, and adjusted my hat. As I tied up my kicks in the kitchen, excitement cursed through my veins—I could feel my muscles doing a jitterbug of happiness. The birds seemed to sing a greeting to me as I headed down our street; and daffodils and cherry blossoms bowed their heads and bobbed as I passed. I felt ebullient—and fleet footed. Listening to my Boston playlist, my heart sang along with the music. A week of no exercise left my legs feeling fresh and alive.
The same feeling coursed through them on the next day’s run; then in boot camp the following day, I felt more limber, flexible, and strong. The instructor, well versed in my overly tight muscles and joints, noticed how much deeper I could drop into lunges and how much quicker I could fire off box jumps. The experts were right: This rest-after-a-marathon thing really works. I recommend you give it a try.