Twin Cities in Motion

The Importance of Rest

posted on Wed, Oct 10 2012 12:00 pm by Mayo Clinic

Congratulations to all runners who recently participated in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon! After all of your hard work and training, it is important to take the appropriate time to rest and allow your body to heal.

Dr. Thomas Allison, an associate professor of medicine in the Mayo Medical School and consultant in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, shares insight on the importance allowing your body to heal after a race and taking time to rest. Dr. Allison’s expertise includes exercise testing, primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, cardiac rehabilitation, and sports cardiology.

Dr. Allison also has a personal interest in staying active. He has participated in track, cross-country, and road racing from ages 14-47. He has completed in numerous marathons, including the Boston Marathon 6 times, and qualified for the 1980 Olympic Trials in the Marathon. Dr. Allison has won the Road Runners Club of American National Master’s championship in final marathon in Kansas City in 1993.


Q: What is the proper amount of rest after running a race?

A:We did some research on recovery from a marathon run [Maresh CM, Allison TG, Noble BJ, Drash A, Kraemer WJ.  Substrate and hormone responses to exercise following a marathon run.  Int J Sports Med 1989 Apr; 10(2):101-6].  Subjects exercised for 30 minutes at their usual race pace at 3 days, 7 days, and 14 days after running the Boston Marathon.  The time for recovery was inversely proportional to how hard the subject ran the race (race time divided by previous personal best time).  Better performers took longer to recover.  Those who "took it easy" during the marathon and didn't get close to their personal best recovered more quickly -- not within 3 days but by 7 days.  Full recovery was not seen until 14 days post-race in individuals who had the best performances in the marathon race itself.  When I was running competitively in the 1970's and 80's, there was a rule of thumb that you needed 1 day of recovery and retraining per mile of the race.  In other words, a runner would have to wait about 4 weeks after a marathon before being ready to run another marathon at a competitive effort.  Obviously, some people run marathons more frequently -- some have run one every week of the year, but they aren't running at 100% effort during any of those races, just trying to finish comfortably.  It is important to rest your legs by not running for at least 2-3 days after the race or until the post-race muscle stiffness (and joint or tendon pain and swelling) is gone.  Many running injuries occur when you start training again too quickly after a hard, long race.  You will likely get back to hard training more quickly by taking a few days of complete rest than by forcing yourself to run on sore legs.

Q: When running a race…when is it okay to keep pushing forward?


A: Well, it seems one must always push forward if one is to finish the race.  This question has several possible answers:

1. If you are experiencing chest pain, unusual shortness of breath, disorientation or dizziness, you should stop running immediately, take a slow walking cool-down, and seek medical attention promptly.

2. Assuming you feel well, I'd suggest that you start at a relaxed pace and try to complete at least 1/2 of the race before the running gets really hard.  If you are pushing the pace early to try to achieve some arbitrary split times, you are likely to experience a slow down at the end that more than eats up whatever time you've managed to save in the early stages if you are burring too much glycogen.  "There's no such thing as money in the bank" was how I first heard it phrased by Billy Squires, coach of early American marathon icon Bill Rodgers.  Running relatively even splits is the best way to run your best possible time, but you have to pace yourself against your internal sense of effort and fatigue, not some arbitrary numbers on the watch.  Variations in weather conditions can turn a sensible pace into one that will get you into trouble later.

3. If you begin to suffer from some muscle or joint pain during the race, whether to continue pushing forward at your usual pace, back off the pace but still continue running, or to drop out and set your sights on running another day is a difficult decision to make.  The later in the race you begin to feel the pain, the less total damage you are going to do by continuing to run hard.  If you've done a lot of training and spent a lot of time and money getting to the race, then why not go for it?  Similarly, if the marathon you are running is towards the end of the season, and you don't have any more races planned for a few months, then you won't be as disappointed with a long recovery from injury as if you had plans for more upcoming races.  In general, it isn't a good idea to anticipate good performances and schedule any important races for the month or so after a hard marathon.

Q: Damage control…when should I back off?

A: Back off if the symptoms are central in nature -- chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, etc.  If peripheral -- blisters, muscle cramps, stomach cramps, joint pain, you are probably OK to continue.  Overheating can be a life-threatening problem when running on hot days.  If the temperature is above 60 degrees F, then you may have to adjust your pace early and try to drink more water.  Signs of impending heat stroke would be excessive, slowing down, dizziness, disorientation, and balance problems.  Stop running and seek medical attention.



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Mayo Clinic submissions to Mile Marker are reviewed by the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center team. The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center treats sports and activity related injuries, creates customized exercise programs and provides preventive care for athletes of all levels.


Mayo Clinic is a proud sponsor of the Twin Cities Marathon. More than 3,700 physicians, scientists and researchers, and 50,100 allied health staff work at Mayo Clinic, which has campuses in Rochester, Minn; Jacksonville, Fla; and Scottsdale/Phoenix, Ariz.; and community-based providers in more than 70 locations in southern Minnesota., western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa.