How to not lose your marathon fitness

You were one of thousands that put your life on hold, dedicated months of your time getting up before the sun had risen to run intervals, track sessions and the non-sexy aerobic runs. You said no to social occasions and drove everyone in the office crazy with your chat about ‘tempo’, ‘threshold’, pacing strategy and running fuel.  You ran your race and if all went to plan, you were successful in hitting whatever goal you set - but now the dust is settling, perhaps you are thinking about taking a break but you don’t want to lose all of that fitness you shed litres of sweat to acquire. Detraining is where you take periods of substantially reduced activity or training.  The big question is how long can you keep this training volume down and not see or feel the effects? The answer? As a general rule the evidence suggests that you can retain all the endurance gains made for the marathon for about 2 weeks without training. If you are new to exercising, then that time period is shortened as you have not had the time to gain the structural adaptations like a larger heart, and higher capillary density that take longer to return to baseline. (1) After 4 weeks of inactivity, studies found drops in blood volume, plasma volume and ventricle thickness in the heart had been reduced. The impact of this is when you are running, there is less oxygen being delivered to your muscles since you have a) less blood volume and  b) the pumping mechanism (the heart) is smaller. The good news is that if you avoid complete and total inactivity then the time it takes you to return to your peak is not as severe. It's worth noting that everyone is individual.  Reduction in endurance performance ranged from 4-25% with 3-4 weeks of inactivity which is a huge variation to consider. (2) What can I do? - remain active. Classic studies from the 1980s have shown that you can continue to train at shorter but higher intensity and get away with working out less in a weekly period. Some subjects who had previously trained 6 times per week were able to reduce volume down to 2 HIIT sessions per week and maintain O2 uptake and heart size (if the intensity of the 2 sessions was high enough). One aspect I think is very important to consider is the mental health element of training. If you have been dedicated and “all in” in marathon training then a complete stop altogether will be detrimental to your mental welfare and could result in increases in the symptoms of depression and anxiety. (4)  Get in touch with our local community who are still running, sign up to your next event, get down to Innerfight Endurance Track Tuesday and get involved again as soon as you feel recovered from your race. You will feel the benefits physically and mentally. 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29212672 2: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236590070_Detraining 3:  R.C Hickson, “Reduced training intensities and loss of aerobic power, endurance and cardiac growth” Journal of applied Physiology, 1985, 58(2), 492-499 4:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28625704 By; Rob Jones, Endurance Coach