Marathon recovery still a mystery

Conventional wisdom says it takes 26 days to fully recover from a marathon, but is there any science to back it up?

Conventional wisdom says it takes anywhere from 26 days to a month to fully recover from a marathon, but is there any science to back it up?

In an article in the New York Times, Gina Kolata looks at the idea of marathon recovery and finds there hasn’t been a lot of research in this area. “There have been almost no long-term studies, and there’s little agreement on what to measure or how to measure it. This aspect of competition is rife with unsubstantiated dogma,” she says.

There’s been one popular theory that you should take as many days to recover as miles in a race (i.e. 26 days to recover from a marathon). But Dr. Timothy Noakes, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, tells Kolata that’s not entirely true.

Part of the problem is that we don’t know how to truly measure recovery. Is it dependent on muscle soreness? Performance? Speed? Muscle damage?

“As far as a specific measure for recovery, this is likely the world’s biggest mystery,” Dr. Maria Urso, a research physiologist at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told Kolata. “There are so many physiological changes that take place when you push a body to its limits, it would be impossible to make one measure and use it as a gold standard.”

The real answer may be that it depends on the person. Dr. Urso recommends runners do a “reverse taper,” starting out with runs that last no longer than 60 minutes and gradually building distance back up within a period of two to three weeks after the race.