The Science of Marathon Recovery

Here’s an article I wrote May 2022 and realised i hadn’t published it on my own website!!!

We’re well into race season now, the event often considered the pinnacle of endurance.

There were a staggering 1.3 million finishers in 2018 according to the BBC, and each year 250,000 people apply for just 50,000 London Marathon spots.* The 2023 London Marathon saw 578,374 applicants and 50,000 entrants!

Most people train at the extremes of speed, run too far and very often disorganised and dehydrated by the time race day comes round.

What happens to the body after the marathon, is almost as interesting as the build up!

Want to watch the presentation instead of read, check it out below:

Until this point, the recovery strategy I have implemented for my running client’s has been based on physiological principles but now there is a research paper identifying exactly what’s going on!

Bernat-Adell et al., (2019) monitored 4 biomarkers of 86 runners. They looked at what happened to those enzymes before and then for 192 hours post marathon.

Straight forward answer — everything increased significantly but there’s something much more interesting.

If you want the practical takeaways, scroll down a bit!

These biomarkers had very specific roles within the body:

  • Lactate Dehydrogenase & Creatine Kinase are enzymes which are usually low but increase as a result of excessive exercise. Both of these relate to the degree of metabolic adaptation to training and are involved in muscle metabolism.
  • People who aren’t trained tend to have higher values than experienced runners, although more interestingly, women seem to have slower increases than men (Butova & Masalv, 2009).
  • High-sensitivity troponin T — a marker of cellular damage of acute myocardial infarction.
  • C-reactive protein: is produced in the liver/coronary arteries in response to a heart injury/infection and is a marker of inflammation.

What Happened?

Unexpectedly the values continue to rise after the race and unbelieveably they remained elevated for 196 hours after the race.

C-Reactive Protein was still presenting high levels over 8 days and this was quite a considerable finding as it is a particular marker of inflammation usually in response to a heart injury or infection.

Women very interestingly seemed to handle post-race events better than men and perhaps this is related to the fact that it took them longer to elevate levels in the first place.

Their conclusions were that the faster you ran, the more calories you burnt and thus the greater damage you sustained with a greater requirement for a strategic recovery period. Contrary to this, slower runners didn’t have such a high level of damage but did have a higher inflammatory response.

Practical Takeaway‘s

  1. No matter what, you shouldn’t perform any muscle damaging exercise, such as weight training, circuits or running for the 96 hours after finishing the marathon.
  2. Your first week after the marathon should be focussed on mobility and non-impact light aerobic exercise like walking, biking and swimming.
  3. You should graduate your running recovery based on each week’s response but week 2 begin some short, light and very easy running.
  4. You may feel like you’ve recovered after a few days but that’s not cellular damage recovery, don’t fall for it!
  5. By week 3-4 you should be able to incorporate some quality work, where you’re pushing yourself once more.
  6. Remember the continued importance of strength and conditioning to ease tight areas and strengthen weak ones, these will have become very apparent during the latter stages of your marathon.
  7. Break the above rules and your chance of injury and niggles goes right up and that might not occur in the immediate future but in your next training phase as your load management is out of sync.
  8. Nutrition and sleep but that’s a whole other story!

If you need help with your training, book a FREE Consultation here=>

Happy training people and drop me a message if you need some help!

Arj Thiruchelvam

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