#206 How long do I have to take off from running to recover? - DOC

#206 How long do I have to take off from running to recover?

Today on the Doc On The Run podcast, we’re talking about how long you should take off running.

Let’s talk about two extremely common questions from runners.

How much time do I need to take off from running after my race?

How much time do I need to take off from running if I get a running injury?

These questions are actually very similar. If you are a runner who has been injured I think it is to your benefit if you really can think about both of these questions, and then think about the variables that coalesce to give you the correct answer.

The time you need to take off from running after race all depends on how long the race is and how hard you ran.

If you ran with one of your friends and you were only running at 75 or 80% of your actual potential, you probably don’t need to take anytime off at all. You could just considerate a long training run. 

But if you actually gave it 100% of your effort, and you left everything on the course, you need some time off. You have tissue damage. You have to recover.

So your effort in the event and the amount of tissue damage you sustain during that event will have a direct correlation with the amount of time it takes to recover after your race. 

Let’s consider some of the stuff that has been published about recovery times after the most popular distance events.

How long should you take off of running after an Ironman triathlon?

The short answer is, no one knows. The amount of time required to fully recover after an ironman triathlon hasn’t really been studied very well. 

There has been some research on muscle recovery after an iron distance triathlon. That research indicates muscle requires two or three weeks of recovery. But that’s only the muscle.

Muscle has much better blood flow, and consequently can heal much faster than tendons, bones or ligaments. Think about it. 

You don’t get stress fractures in your muscles. 

You get stress fractures because the bone gets beaten up repeatedly, and gets beaten up again before it can fully recover and then becomes injured. That doesn’t happened muscles.

How long would it take you to recover and get back to training after a full marathon?

One common rule of thumb is to take three days to seven days of absolute rest with no running after your marathon. After that, you might begin light exercise and even some gentle running if you’re not sore at that point.

Again, there are many different variables that will determine whether or not you will still be sore at three days after your marathon or even 10 days after your marathon.

What if you live in Houston, always run on flat courses, and you never train on hills, but you sign up for a marathon at altitude with 3,500 of elevation gain. How long would it take you to recover after that race?

Well if you ran it fast, or roughly the same amount of time you typically run the Houston Marathon, it’s going to take you a lot longer to recover after that hilly marathon. If your body is severely beaten up, particularly if it is beaten up in a way that you have not trained for, you can expect to take longer to recover. You will simply have more tissue damage. More tissue damage, more severe tissue damage all means you have a longer time expected in recovery.

Some researchers have actually tried to figure out how long it takes for certain tissues to “recover” after a marathon.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco did a study on novice runners using advanced MRI imaging before and after the marathon. The goal was to look at changes in the knee cartilage.

The researchers found that the cartilage wasn’t exactly damaged, but there were signs of stress visible on the MRIs for up to three months after the marathon. That suggests that you could be at risk of damaging the cartilage in your joints if you’re to start training or racing in long distance events too soon after marathon.

It should be noted that this study was only looking at novice marathon runners who were competing their very first marathon.

The one thing we know for sure is that tendons, ligaments and bones all respond positively to stress applied consistently over a long period of time. A team of researchers at Stanford University have put forth the idea that cartilage like other structures such as bones and tendons actually need the stress of regular running, stress and impact to become stronger. Their research on basketball players suggest that recurring impact sports such as running have a positive training effect on cartilage and make it more durable.

We also know this to be true of bones. If you take someone who is inactive and pair them up with an experienced marathoner and have them do all of the experienced marathoners workouts, you should expect the unfit untrained novice runner will develop a stress fracture or some other stress-related injury.

The experience marathoner is physiologically prepared to absorb the stress. The blood flow within the tissues is different after years of training. The experience marathon or is physiologically primed to recover and heal faster then a novice runner.

So the event has some impact on how long it takes you to recover. But your consistency and longevity as an athlete also has an impact on how quickly you will recover. 

How long do you think it would take you to recover and return to enjoying running and training after a 5K?

If you’re running a lot, you may not take off anytime at all. But if you just started running and it’s the first time you ran a 5K you should probably take off several days. It’s all about how sore you are, and how fast your body is going to heal during the recovery period right after your event.

How long would it take you to recover and get back to training after a half marathon?

I once read a recommendation that if you had done a half marathon in 90 minutes or less, which if you’re not really familiar with running half marathons that’s pretty fast, and you should be able to resume running just 2 to 4 days off from your goal race. But if you’re finish time is more than two hours you could need a week or more of no running at all before you might consider yourself to be fully recovered.

So why is that? Well, that recommendation assumes the people that run slower are novices. Novices theoretically have not trained their bodies to heal as fast as experienced runners. Experience runners simply have an increase in localize blood flow to the tissues, which only developed after years of consistent aerobic training.

Just a couple of years ago when I was doing lots of Ironman racing I actually did a half marathon training run every Friday at a 7:30 minute per mile pace. That is exactly 90 minutes. The next day I would usually do my long ride which was somewhere close to hundred miles. Then I would do a long run on Sunday. I never got injured doing that routine.

But that particular period, was my highest level of fitness in my entire life. Even though was just a couple of years ago, I don’t think I could do that now for months on end without getting injured.

You should also know that I am just an average runner. I’m not some kind of elite athlete.

The only reason I bring it up is to drive home the point that wouldn’t even take two days off of running after that half marathon training run. It was a hard effort I wasn’t going 100%.

So now let’s go back to those two questions I posed at the beginning of this lesson.

How much time do I need to take off from running after my race?

How much time do I need to take off from running if I get a running injury?

How are these two questions really related?

It’s all about the amount of tissue damage, and how are you efficient your body, your physiology, may be. It all has to do with the status of your healing machine today.

If you get a stress fracture in one of the metatarsals in your foot, and you are in a high state of physiologic capacity, you’ve been training for a long time consistently there’s no way it’s going to take you six weeks to heal. At least not if you do all everything you can to promote healing and protect that one injured metatarsal bone.

If you get a stress fracture but you’re a novice runner, your body simply isn’t going to heal as fast as you’re well-trained running partners who have been running for 20 years or more. 

So what that means is you need to think about how fast you think you can heal, based on your fitness, physiology and level of training. That is a variable you can’t control. You can’t control or change your fitness level once you get injured, but at least you can get an idea of whether or not you should expect to heal faster than the average patient.

Because when you see your doctor, your doctor is going to try to pigeonhole your injury and assign a standard timeline. So you need to decide whether or not you are going to heal faster or slower than the standard timeline.

You need to think about what you can do to accelerate the recovery process. This is a variable you can control. You have to think about everything you can possibly do to optimize your physiology for tissue repair.

So think about how long it’s going to take you to get better. Figure out what you can do to push that timeline see you can get back to running sooner.

One of the best places to start that journey is the Healing Runner’s Goal Worksheet. You can find it posted under the podcast show notes for this episode under the podcast tab at docontherun.com. It’s free. Go get it, print it out and then start mapping out your plan for getting back to running sooner.

Download the Healing Runner’s Goal Worksheet. It will help you take what you know about goal setting in running and use what you already know to focus your healing. It’s free. Go get it now!

Healing Runner’s Goal Worksheet






If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!