The Power of Rest after Running a Marathon

No snoozing in a hammock, but a week off from running felt nearly as restful.

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.

16 responses to “The Power of Rest after Running a Marathon

  1. After my first marathon, young and naive and maddeningly addicted to running, I didn’t rest at all and ended up layed up for a month due to shinsplints and bruised toes. It’s an ugly fact that rest is important :). Now that I am a mom and still running, I have learned that rest after a big event is more than just letting my body regenerate, it let’s my mind take a break from all the mental prep and stress as well. Keep doing what you do, mom runners all, and happy running!

  2. Thank you SBS for the reminder. I just finished my 31 miler. I usually take 2 weeks off from running. I like to change things up and start biking again or add more DVD exercises. I was amazed how bad I felt post-race (I should of had some hard pain meds) to the very next day (pain went way down and could walk the block). Today, now Tuesday, I can do squats without any problems. We must rest and recover. You Ladies ROCK!

  3. Sarah, I also waited to run until the Sunday after Boston. I was super sore to begin but by Sunday I felt ready to go. And after struggling early into Boston it felt amazing to run a seemingly effortless 6 miles. Amazing what a difference 35 degrees makes. But on that Sunday post-marathon I wore my blue long sleeved marathon T and felt prouder during a run than I ever have. I flew. That’s the power of Boston. I ran as a charity runner raising more than $5200 for Tufts University. I won’t be back but I will never ever forget my Boston.

  4. I ran the Kentucky Derby Marathon as hard as I could on Saturday (got a 9-minute PR–whoo hoo!) and my legs still hurt too much to even think of running. But the addict in me was thinking maybe 2-3 on Wednesday and Thursday, maybe 6 or so on Saturday. I’m so glad you posted this! I don’t want dead legs for a month. If that means not running this week, that’s what I’ll do. Really, other than the pain for a few days, that’s the WORST part of post-marathon–that month or so of dead legs. Who knew the cure was so simple??? I’m venturing into ultramarathon territory for the first time in 5 weeks (50K), so I need some life in these middle-aged legs!

  5. Oops. Already messed that up. Ha ha. I took more rest days than usual after Boston, but I ran a tough 14-mile trail race yesterday, and I could still feel the fatigue in my legs.

  6. I ran the Blue Ridge Half Marathon on the 21st of April and ran for the first time today and felt great. I had raced throughout the winter and decided that not only my body, but that my mind needed a rest. My run today was awesome and now I am looking forward to training for Chicago. Great post!

  7. Who are you? and what have you done with my buddy, Sarah?

    Seriously, good on you! Excellent advice for us over-the-top anal runners. Good to know the world didn’t stop; you didn’t implode; and the legs thanked you for it.

  8. I ran my 20 over the weekend and felt guilty that I didn’t do a short bike ride the day after. Now, after reading this maybe it was smart of me to take that day. I was able to get up early today and do my 12 x400 meter intervals without dead legs. Dang it when the experts are right.

  9. Great timing on the post. I ran a marathon yesterday and I too am always itching to jump back into running but then disappointed by how slow and sore I am. Today, the great challenge will be getting up and down the stairs-ouch!

  10. Man, it bugs me when “they” are right. Next thing you know you’ll be waiting half an hour after eating to swim and looking both ways before you cross the street! For real – way to go, SBS. Congrats on a successful race, road trip and re-entry into running! Counting the days till ZOOMA Cape Cod…

  11. I haven’t run since Boston. Actually NO exercise at all. Just my normal active life of running after kids. My body feels great except for my pelvic bone that aches a bit still (reason for absolutely no running) but I’m convinced this break will make me stronger. Glad you had some rest!!

  12. I wish I would have taken better care to rest after Napa Marathon last month! Instead I took a few days then kept up the mileage and raced almost every weekend. Oops! Now I’m a little worried that my lead legs won’t feel like carrying me through The Relay (Calistoga to Santa Cruz) next weekend! Lesson learned and confirmed after reading this great post! Rest is best. It’s good to hear you’re feeling energized again 🙂

  13. Oh I so needed to see this today…I just finished a race yesterday and already feel a bit of an itch to get out on Tuesday or Wednesday for a light jog…I will resist. I will resist. I will resist. 🙂

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