Running a half marathon takes a significant amount of training and endurance. After completing a half marathon, it may be tempting to get right back into your training routine in preparation for your next race. Taking time off after a long race such as a half marathon is important, however. Giving yourself a week to recover allows your muscles to heal and may help you to jump-start your progress when you do start training again.
Long races such as half marathons are hard on the muscles, causing the development of microscopic tears and other damage in muscle fibers and the connective tissue as well. This damage can result in delayed-onset muscle soreness that leaves your muscles aching for several days after your race and may leave your muscles feeling fatigued and weak while they heal. The amount of damage present after your half marathon depends on your fitness level, how thorough your training was and how much experience you have running long races. Howvever, some damage is normal even in experienced runners.
Importance of Recovery
Taking time off to recover after your half marathon gives your muscles time to repair the tears and other damage they developed during the race. This healing is an important part of muscle development as the body attempts to recover from the stress of running while it heals its muscles. As this occurs, your strength and your endurance increase, which means you will be able to run faster and for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued. If you don’t take time off for recovery after your half marathon, then you may end up injuring your already-damaged muscles.
The first two to three days following a half marathon should be completely free of running or other training. The muscles of your legs will likely be sore and fatigued during this time so skipping your training gives those muscles a chance to start the healing process. Make sure that you get plenty of rest and eat nutritious meals that are high in protein during these first few days to give your body the time and materials it needs to heal your muscles properly. To reduce muscle pain, you can take over-the-counter NSAID painkillers such as ibuprofen, apply ice and heat to the affected muscles and get a massage.
After the aching in your muscles has passed, you may only do some light training because you’re technically still in recovery. Warm up with stretches before training to prevent injury to your joints and stick to light aerobics or other low-impact exercise for the interim. If you want to get back into running, try jogging for 1 to 3 miles instead. The goal of any training that you do in the latter half of your recovery week isn’t to improve your race form but rather to get your muscles ready for your return to standard training the following week.
Back to Training
Work back up to your normal training pace over the course of several training sessions. The time that you spent in recovery can create an artificial plateau because your body will have gotten used to a lower activity level. So approach your first week back in your regular training schedule the same way you did your first training session when you were preparing for your half marathon. Keep both the pace and distance low. Increase your speed and distance slightly during your next training session, and again in the session that follows, until you reach the speed and training distances you were used to before your half marathon. Once you reach that point, you can then begin training to improve your speed or your endurance so you can run a full marathon.
Born in West Virginia, Jack Gerard now lives in Kentucky. A writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience, he has written both articles and poetry for publication in magazines and online. A former nationally ranked sport fencer, Gerard also spent several years as a fencing coach and trainer.