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How long does it take to to recover from a marathon? It’s not just your legs, it’s your heart that needs to recover.

For those who just finished the Akron Marathon this past weekend, here is a great article to read that is an excerpt from the book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? by Alex Hutchison.

What many don’t realize is that your heart undergoes quite a beating an it needs to recover as well. We aren’t talking about 1 or 2 days, it can be 2-3 weeks until your fully recovered. Some think even longer! Enjoy, and if you haven’t read this book and your a runner, I advise you do!

The aches and pains that hit you in the days after an extended bout of exercise can seem worse than the competition itself. When you take part in something like a triathlon, a multi-hour hike, or a long running race, you’re subjecting your body to stress that causes damage and takes time to heal. Different systems return to normal at different rates: acute fatigue might be gone within a day or two; your immune system could be weakened for up to a week; and in some cases, muscular fatigue can linger for several weeks.
In the last few years, researchers have become concerned about the possibility that extended endurance activity could cause heart damage, since the heart has to beat unusually quickly for several hours. Several studies have found evidence of “cardiac injury” in runners after they complete a marathon, including enzymes suggesting that heart muscle has been damaged. To investigate these claims more closely, researchers at the University of Manitoba used magnetic resonance imaging to perform a detailed analysis of the hearts of participants in the Manitoba Marathon, publishing the results in the American Journal of Cardiology in 2009. They found that, despite initial evidence of damage, normal heart function resumed within a week. In other words, your heart muscles take a beating during a marathon but recover soon afterwards, just like your leg muscles.
The damage to your legs will be considerably more obvious to you, since you may have difficulty walking down stairs or even just getting out of bed the next morning. This delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS (see Chapter 3) tends to peak one or two days after the race and can persist for up to a week. Soreness lasting longer than a week could indicate more serious damage and should be examined by a clinician. But it’s not unusual for muscle fatigue to persist even after the soreness is gone, sometimes for several more weeks. A Danish study in 2007 tested well-trained runners a week after a marathon, when soreness was no longer a factor. Using electrodes “to stimulate muscle contractions, the researchers found that the muscles themselves had fully recovered—but when the runners tried to voluntarily contract their muscles, they were still much weaker than before the race. This suggests that the lasting fatigue after a marathon has a neuromuscular origin—the signal from the brain to the muscle fibers is disrupted somewhere along the signal path (one theory suggests the disruption is caused by overloaded receptors in the spine).
Despite their best efforts, researchers haven’t had much success in figuring out how to speed up the recovery process. A classic study in 1984 compared experienced marathoners who took a week of complete rest to those who ran 20 to 45 minutes a day after the race. After a week, the rested group had better leg muscle strength and slightly higher levels of energy storage in their muscles, though the differences weren’t large. Other studies with similar results suggest that it’s best to be cautious and make a gradual return to activity. Start with walking (or gentle biking or swimming) instead of running during the first four or five days. After that, proceed with a “reverse taper” that reaches normal training no “sooner than two weeks after the race. And be flexible: if your legs still feel dead after three weeks, congratulate yourself on having pushed very close to your limits in the race—and give them more time to recover.”
Excerpt From: Hutchinson, Alex. “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?.” HarperCollins US. iBooks.
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