And then we rested.

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People often ask me what I do after I’ve run a marathon. The simplest answer is that I start training all over again, although very few answers in running are that simple.

Rules vary as to how quickly you should begin the next training cycle. Generally it takes two or three weeks for your body to heal. There are rules that say you should take a rest day for every mile run – 26 days. Some suggest a rest day for every kilometer – that’s 42 days of rest! We thought the taper was miserable.

Personally, I like the rule of total rest for 7-10 days and then a reverse taper. In other words, run the same mileage you ran during the taper but in reverse so that you slowly ramp back up to pre-race levels.

The challenge is to overcome the fear that you’re loosing fitness as the days pass. We’ve already reduced our mileage slowly for three weeks before the race and now we are faced with another week of rest and two or three more weeks of reduced mileage. It’s enough to make you scream.

Research suggests, however, that recovery is speeded and conditioning is not affected if you do nothing for 7 to 10 days after the race. Even after running is resumed, too much too soon and you’ll find yourself injured or sick. The immune system is weakened as the body uses all its energy to heal muscles and repair damage.

The marathon is less a physical event than a spiritual encounter. In infinite wisdom, God built into us a 32-km racing limit, a limit imposed by inadequate sources of the marathoner’s prime racing fuel – carbohydrates. But we, in our human wisdom, decreed that the standard marathon be raced over 42 km.

So it is in that physical no-man’s-land, which begins after the 32-km mark, that the irresistible appeal of the marathon lies. It is at that stage, as the limits to human running endurance are approached, that the marathon ceases to be a physical event. It is there that you, the runner, discover the basis for the ancient proverb: “When you have gone so far that you cannot manage one more step, then you have gone just half the distance that you are capable of.” It is there that you learn something about yourself and your view of life. Marathon runners have termed it the wall.

Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, MD

The marathon is as mentally grueling as it is physical and rushing back into a heavy training or racing schedule can be catastrophic down the road. Olympic champion Frank Shorter says: “You’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.” Given that advice it’s a wonder some of us ever run another marathon.

Give yourself a mental rest from the discipline of heavy training. Allow yourself to fill the days with things you don’t normally have the time to do, or to eat a few of the things you wouldn’t normally dare (cinnamon rolls for me – two and counting).

My husband and I were watching the elite runners finish the ING New York City Marathon this weekend. Geoffrey Mutai was interviewed after he won the men’s title. The announcer asked him how he has been so successful without a coach – he coaches himself and a few other runners. Mutai’s answer surprised me. He talked a little about what it’s like to be a coach but ended by saying, “…and then I respect myself as an athlete.”

It’s incredibly hard to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do – for runners, rest. You could say it takes courage. Mutai’s comment struck me as the answer to allowing yourself the rest your body needs in exchange for the stress you have put on it while running the marathon.

If you respect yourself, it seems the tough decisions become easier to make. Good advice in running and in life.

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