There seems to be growing trend of under valuing recovery. Runners fear days spent not running equates to a fitness vacuum, sucking weeks of training gains. First, you need to come to terms that you can’t be at peak fitness year round. It’s impossible. You’ll break. Your fitness graph should roll upwards with ascents and descents. The forever present plague of under, or in some instances–non existent, recovery in the running population boggles me. As runners, we’re great at justifying more. “I already signed up to race,” “I’m not sore anymore,” and “I didn’t race that hard” are verbal diarrhea that litter my clinic. Justifying a quick recovery with a poor performance is dumb. A race that went less than ideal isn’t a valid excuse to slack on recovery. You’re not only recovering from race day, but all the time spent training.
“I’m not sore anymore.”
For whatever reason, runners correlate the absence of soreness with being recovered. I don’t have to cite the fact that muscle soreness peaks at 48 hours and dissipates thereafter. At this point it’s fact. Going down the stairs post-marathon normally isn’t an open invitation for a race the following weekend. Hell, it’s not even an invitation to start running again. Unless you’re running for a paycheck, pushing your recovery is simply a death sentence to sustaining a healthy running career. I’m not saying you can’t get away with it, but trust me… it will catch up with you. Justifying a quick return with “I feel pretty good,” feeling “recovered,” or “I won’t race hard” isn’t a green light to lace up. Chances are… there’s zero chance you can sign up and not go all competitive on a race.
Research conducted in 2007 by Petersen et. al. found significant muscle weakness both at two and five days post marathon. Using a counter-movement jump researchers found 18 and 12% decrease in performance two and five days post marathon. Maximum voluntary contraction, a measure of maximum muscle force, for both the knee extensors (quadriceps) and plantarflexors (calfs) found 22 and 17% respective dive in performance 2 and 5 days post marathon. The moral of this story? Running within the first week is really out of the question. That includes you–person attempting to justify a ‘shake-out run’. This study fails to account for the fatigue proximally. Fatigued and strained core muscles will likely cause excessive motion distally at the knee and ankle and invite injury into your life. Without a properly functioning set of butt and core muscles you can kiss healthy knees and ankles goodbye. Leetun et al found that hip external rotation and abduction (think glutes) weakness are significant predictors for injuries in basketball players and track athletes. The majority of injuries were found at the ankle (65%) and knee (23%) respectively.
Said weakness arises when muscular tearing occurs at a microscopic level. The ratcheting system responsible for generating force is destroyed. Luckily, your body responds by repairing the system to a stronger state, that is if you let it. Muscle breakdown is measurable. An enzyme called Creatine kinase (CK) is released post injury. It circulates through the blood and can be measured. Elevated CK measures were found up to one week post marathon in a study conducted by Kobayashi et. al., reflecting signals of damaged tissue leaking contents into the surrounding fluid.
Further extending the damage timeframe, a 1985 study by Warhol et. al. found structural repair at the cellular level to under electron microscopy to take three to four weeks. Continued tissue regeneration was also found at 12 weeks. Yes. That means that three months later structural repair is still occurring.
This article isn’t suggesting that you wait 12+ weeks prior to running, but to timeframe the accrued damage that occurs with long distance racing/running. At the very least you should wait a week before running again. You should also weigh the danger of racing or running too hard too soon. Easy running is one thing, racing or running hard is completely different. Personally, I follow the “one day of recovery for every mile raced” rule. Post-Boston Marathon I waited roughly seven days before running. Even then, I felt like garbage. I’ve been slowly reintroducing miles while shifting my focus to strength and balance.
Post race is time to rebuild and recovery. Shift back to regaining balance and strength that were neglected as training increased and time was pinched. Easily spending one hour a week with RunSmart Yoga and RunSmart BaseSix can effectively (and efficiently) assist you in regaining core and hip strength before your next round of training. Be smart. Don’t freak out. Let yourself decondition, recover, and rebuild. Remember, you can’t be at peak fitness year round.
Peterson K, Bugge Hansen C, Aagaard P, Madsen K. Muscle mechanical characteristics in fatigue and recovery from a marathon race in highly trained runners. Eur J Appl Physiol (2007) 101:385–396.
Leetun D, Ireland ML, Willson J, Ballantyne B, Davis IM. Core Stability Measures as Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Injury in Athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36(6):926-934, 2004.
Kobayashi Y1, Takeuchi T, Hosoi T, Yoshizaki H, Loeppky JA. Effect of a marathon run on serum lipoproteins, creatine kinase, and lactate dehydrogenase in recreational runners. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2005 Dec;76(4):450-5.