What Happens To My Body When I Run A Marathon?
Marathons are tough on the body – there’s no way to sugar coat this fact.
Muscles, hormones, tendons, cells, and almost every physiological system is pushed to the max during a marathon race.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned runner or it’s your first marathon, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles and your body has undergone tremendous physical duress, let alone the stress you have put on your body running according to your marathon training schedule.
Here is a list of some of the scientifically measured physiological systems that are most effected after a marathon and how long each takes to fully repair.
Muscles soreness and fatigue are the most obvious case of damage caused by running the marathon distance.
One scientific study conducted on the calf muscles of marathon runners concluded that both the intensive training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power and durability for up the 14 days post marathon.
Accordingly, it will take your muscles about 2 weeks post marathon to return to full strength.
Cellular damage post marathon, which includes oxidative damage, increased production of creatinine kinase (CK) – a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and myocardial tissue, and increased myoglobin levels in the blood stream (which often results in blood being present in urine).
One study concluded that CK damage persisted more than 7 days post marathon while another study confirmed the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream post marathon for 3-4 days post race.
Both of these studies clearly indicate that the body needs at least 7-10 days of rest post marathon to fully recover from the cellular damage caused during the race.
These markers, along with a suppressed immune system, which is discussed below, is the primary reason that the optimal marathon recovery schedule avoids cross training the first 2-3 days.
Post marathon, the immune system is severely compromised, which increases the risk of contracting colds and the flu.
Furthermore, a suppressed immune system is one of the major causes of over-training. A recent study confirms that the immune system is compromised up to three days post marathon and is a major factor in over-training syndrome.
Therefore, it is critical that you rest as much as possible in the three days following a marathon and focus on eating healthy and nutrient rich foods.
The research clearly indicates that the marathon induces significant muscle, cellular, and immune system damage for 3-14 days post race.
Therefore, it is essential that all marathon runners have a 2-3 week marathon recovery protocol that focuses on rest and rejuvenation of these physiological systems.