Safety tips and How to avoid injuries
March 6, 2018
Nutrition for Runners
March 16, 2018

Post marathon: damage to the body and recovery

How the marathon damages your body

Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and almost every physiological system is challenged when running a marathon. The body endures tremendous physical duress, even if you don’t feel sore immediately afterward.

Here are some of the scientifically measured physiological systems that are impacted after running a race.

Skeletal Muscle

Both the intensive training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power and durability. Muscles are weakened and need extensive recovery before returning to full training.

Cellular Damage

Cellular damage post-marathon is best measured by the presence and production of creatinine kinase (CK) — a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and myocardial tissue — and increased myoglobin levels in the blood stream. One study concluded that CK damage persisted more than seven days post-marathon while another study discovered the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream for 3-4 days post-race. Both of these studies clearly indicate that the body needs rest after a marathon to fully recover from the cellular damage caused during the race.


Phase 1-Within the first 24 hours after racing, your highest priorities in terms of recovery are initiating muscle repair, restocking muscle glycogen stores, and rehydrating. Call it phase one of post-race recovery.

Phase 2-Rest and recovery-How quickly you return to normal training depends on the length of the race you’ve just completed, your fitness level, and when you plan to race next. If the race you’ve just completed is the last one in your current training cycle, you should feel no rush to return to normal training.  In fact, you’ll be better served in the long run if you allow your body and mind to rejuvenate through a brief period of inactivity followed by a period of informal workouts, preferably featuring alternative modes of exercise/cross training e.g. swimming, gym work, yoga etc.


General guidelines to consider when planning your return to training:

  • After shorter races (up to 10K): You can do your next hard run within as few as three days, if you’re a high-mileage runner. Otherwise, wait about five days.
  • After a 10-miler or half-marathon: Fitter runners can go long or fast again after four or five days. More casual runners should wait at least a full week.
  • After a marathon: All runners wishing to maintain a high level of fitness should do little or no running for seven days to a month based on fitness, next race etc. followed by a week of only low-intensity running. Then you can return to your normal regimen.

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