Wednesday, June 20, 2012
At dinner the other night, my wife and I were talking with our neighbor about marathon running. She is an avid runner, and ran in the Boston Marathon. When I asked her if she planned to run another marathon this year she replied that it takes too long to recover and that she would not compete in another for a long time. However, my wife’s sister, roughly the same age and also an avid runner, will compete in six marathons this year. How is it that one avid runner can only compete in one marathon each year while another can compete in six?
As reported in The New York Times (Health: March 19, 2012), how long it takes to recover from a marathon or any other strenuous exercise is not known and is dependent on a host of factors including the mental state of the runner. A popular theory is that the recovery time in days is equal to the number of miles run (e.g., it will take 20 days to fully recover from a 20 mile running race). However, this is not based on any scientific studies and seems mostly discredited by the athletic community. One of the challenges is defining what recovery means. Recovery can mean absence of soreness, replenishment of muscle glycogen, return to peak performance, or even psychological well-being. No benchmarks for any of these exist. We do know that athletes who consume carbohydrates or a bit of protein after exercise seem to replenish muscle glycogen stores with 24 hours or so. Most muscle soreness resolves within a week.
However, muscle soreness that prevents exercise leads to deconditioning so that it takes additional time to be able to return to the same performance level. For others, the emotional toll can exceed the physiologic one. Many elite marathoners only run one or two marathons a year as it can take months to recover from the effort. The reasons for the apparent difference in recovery times between my neighbor and sister-in-law may lie in their reason for running in the first place. My neighbor, having met the time she wanted, feels that the pain associated with marathons outweighs any potential joy. My sister-in-law, however, runs to prove something to herself and her family so she will be on the roads within days of finishing the marathon.
Noted by WVR, MD
*This filler excerpt can be found in the June 2012 Pediatrics print journal p. 1110, or via online here.
Posted by Dr. Lewis R. First at 12:01 AM