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What Happens When You Stop Running?

Marathon running is not an easy sport to commit to. It takes a level of physical and mental toughness that goes above and beyond the average person. Those who compete in these races do so not just to prove to themselves that they can, but for the most part, they actually enjoy them. 

The human body wasn’t meant to organically run the distances that marathon runners do. For this reason, self-care and injury prevention are just as important as training before a race and maintenance during a race. Training for a marathon and keeping yourself fit enough to run again down the line are not the same. If training stops altogether, then you need to wean yourself back into a routine that will not cause injury. 

Depending on how long you’ve been away and how much your muscle to fat ratio is altered, there are different workout schedules to follow. When you stop a regular running routine, your body decreases in blood volume and mitochondria. In addition, your lactate limit gets lowered. That being said, experienced runners will bounce back much easier than an amateur. This is because the longer you’ve been running, the more aerobic strength you have built up. The mitochondria that live in your blood cells are the powerhouses of the cells. They produce more energy. More blood cells mean more oxygen delivery to all of your muscles. In short, it’s your maximal aerobic capacity that determines how hard it is to get back into marathon shape. Depending on how much time off you take, you lose a certain percentage of your cardiorespiratory fitness level (VO2max). This is also known as your maximum oxygen uptake level. 

Taking two weeks off means you will lose between 5–7 percent of your VO2 max. By taking two months off, that figure climbs to a 20 percent loss. At three months, you lose 25–30 percent of your maximum oxygen uptake. In addition, stopping a workout routine also affects other parts of your body. Your entire musculoskeletal system is affected as you lose the conditioning in your tendons, ligaments, connective tissues, and muscles.

The best rule of thumb is to walk for 45 minutes before starting to run again, especially if you are recovering from an injury. 

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