You finished your goal race, you took some time to recover and now you’re itching to get back at it.
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Taking time off will hopefully mean that you’re both physically and mentally recovered from the previous training cycling. Gone are the achy, heavy legs, the seemingly endless soreness and the overwhelming sense of fatigue. In its place, is hopefully a feeling of freshness, a spring in your step and most importantly, a drive to train again.
Before you do, there are a few things to consider such as when can you start training again and how much should you run when you come back.
How much time should I have taken off?
Following a marathon, it’s especially important to refrain from running until your body is entirely recovered and pain-free. Pounding out 42.2K does a ton of damage to your muscles and many tiny, micro tears to the muscle fibers are the reason for all those achy pains. It’s absolutely essential that you give your body adequate time to recover and repair that damage.
A general rule of thumb is to take one day off for every 3K that you race. Running a marathon then means at least two weeks of no or very little running. Easy running can still be done as part of this down time, granted you are able to run with no pain or discomfort. A better option would be to engage in various forms of cross-training that produce limited stress to the damaged muscles but that hasten recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles. Brisk walking, cycling and swimming are some such options.
What should my mileage be?
When you decide that it’s time to return to running, it’s important not to come back too quickly. Just like you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10-15 per cent each week, you’ll want to gradually return to running by slowly and carefully increasing the frequency and duration of your runs. Come back too soon or do too much and you run the increased risk of injury.
Much like the taper before a big race where you began to decrease your mileage over two-to-three weeks, a reverse-taper refers to a gradual increase in your mileage following a race. It should begin with short, 15-20 minute runs on alternate days and then incrementally increase to longer and more frequent runs. After a few weeks of easy running, workouts and harder sessions–such as strides or hill sprints–can be added once or twice a week. In general, you’ll want to re-establish a good aerobic base before attempting harder, more dedicated/specific training. This base building phase should last at least three to four weeks but can also extend two to three months.
Here is a sample return to running reverse-taper for the six weeks post-race:
Week – Mon – Tues – Wed – Thurs – Fri – Sat – Sun
1 – Off – 15-20 minutes – Off – 15-20 minutes – Off – Off – 20-30 minutes
2 – Off – 20-25 minutes – Off – 20-25 minutes – Off – Off – 30-40 minutes
3 – Off – 20-25 minutes – Off – 20-25 minutes – Off – 15-20 minutes – 40-50 minutes
4 – Off – 25-30 minutes – Off – 25-30 minutes – Off – 15-20 minutes – 50-60 minutes
5 – Off – 30-40 minutes – Off – 30-40 minutes – Off – 20-30 minutes – 60-75 minutes
6 – Off – 40-45 minutes – Off – 40-45 minutes – Off – 30-40 minutes – 60-75 minutes
*At any point and especially during the first few weeks back, if running feels physically uncomfortable (due to soreness or pain), substitute brisk walking or cross-training instead