Congratulations! If you’ve finished a marathon, what an amazing feat (whether it’s your first one or fiftieth one). You’re in the right place for top recovery tips.
There are four primary words to remember when recovering from a marathon: eat, sleep, drink, and recover.
Whether you’re a novice or professional runner, running a marathon puts the body under tremendous strain. Giving yourself time to recover mentally and physically from the rigorous race is important.
This article will review the best evidence-based dos and don’ts of post-race recovery. Keep reading to learn more about post marathon recovery.
What Happens to the Body After a Marathon
The body goes through a lot after pushing through all of those miles. After the race, the body will experience the following:
- A depressed immune system for up to 72 hours (making it extra important to avoid anyone that is sick)
- Short-term changes in kidney function
- Post running depression
- Muscle, ligament, and tendon damage resulting in soreness and inflammation
All of these occurrences make it crucial to take the time to recover properly. Jumping back into a running routine without giving the body (and mind) time to heal can have a significant negative effect in the long term.
You are more likely to experience injury, mental health issues, burnout, and overall poor performance when you don’t take the time to give your body some much-needed rest after running a marathon.
11 Tips for Post-Marathon Recovery
If you’re wondering how to recover after a marathon, review the following eleven tips for the best possible outcomes.
1. Give Your Body Enough Carbs
Getting enough carbohydrates is essential before, during, and right after your race. The body needs carbs (stored as glycogen- aka, fuel for the muscles) to perform at its best and recover optimally afterward when there’s tissue damage.
Load up on carb-rich foods your body likes, such as fruit, whole grains, pasta, pizza, energy bars, sports drinks, juice, and potatoes.
2. Don’t Stop Moving
Right after the race, the worst thing you can do is sit down and rest. Active recovery is important after your race within the first 10 to 15 minutes with a dynamic cool-down. This might include light jogging, walking, or dynamic stretches.
Then, keep the body moving over the next several weeks with gentle activity. Movement, over stagnancy, is crucial to keep the blood moving and the body healing. Ultimately, your recovery is all about finding a balance between doing too much and just sitting around.
3. Replenish the Body as Soon as Possible
The body needs key ingredients to get on track and replace all that was lost during the race. It’ll need major replenishment no matter how well you kept up with water and carbs during your race.
Get fluid and food back in your system within the first thirty minutes. This should include water, electrolytes, carbs, and eventually, a balanced meal with protein, healthy fats, and more carbs (typically within the first few hours).
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the best tools you have for enhancing recovery. Shortly after your race, consider taking a nap to boost muscle repair. Evidence shows that athletes can benefit from a 20 to 90 minutes nap in the afternoon to help fuel recovery. Getting some sleep is a much better idea than heading to the local bar for a celebratory beer.
After an initial nap, make it a priority to get enough restful sleep each night. This means getting more than 7 hours of high-quality sleep.
5. Participate in Active Recovery
Active recovery is another great way to help your body recover. This means doing low-impact activities like brisk walking, cycling, yoga, or swimming. Active rest helps keep the blood moving and flush out lactic acid buildup that can lead to muscle soreness and pain.
6. Boost Your Muscle Healing Potential
The use of certain modalities like compression clothes, anti-gravity compression boots (if available in your area), foam rollers, or sports massage can help reduce tissue damage and soreness. This can make a significant difference in your recovery time as well.
In addition, you might consider an ice bath right after your race to soothe sore muscles and tackle general inflammation. After the initial 24 to 48 hours, you can switch to contrast baths to further promote circulation and healing.
A contrast bath involves alternating between hot and cold water for several cycles. Once a runner hits day 3, they typically prefer ending their contrast bath sequence with heat, which is more soothing and relaxing for recovering muscles.
7. Don’t Run
It’s important to remember that the body needs time to heal. Don’t rush back into running too soon after a marathon, even if you feel recovered. Resist jumping back into high mileage and intense workouts for at least two weeks or until your muscles have fully healed from the race.
For the first post-race week, focusing on low-impact movement and ditching running is recommended altogether. Depending on how your body is feeling, you might start some light jogging and weight lifting in week two. However, some runners will need a full four weeks (or more) to get their bodies back to running again.
8. Combat the Post-Run Blues
After training for months for a big race day and achieving a “peak” moment, it’s normal to experience “post-race blues.” This is the runner’s version of post-holiday depression when you realize that all the hard work has been done, and now it’s time to take a break.
The best way to combat this is to find something else to focus on, such as self-care, learning a new skill, taking a vacation, or planning your next race. This will help you stay motivated and connected to the running community, even if it’s not in an active way.
Overall, it’s recommended to focus on things you love and that bring you joy (outside of running), such as social interactions, a nice meal, and being out in nature.
9. Focus on Your Overall Health
Your body heals best when all of its systems are in balance. It will also help immensely with battling the post-run blues discussed above. There are many holistic ways to boost your overall health. These include:
- Eating nutrient-dense whole foods
- Adequate sleep (as discussed above)
- Taking regular time for self-care
- Stress management techniques
- Having a mindfulness practice
- Regular check-ups with a trusted healthcare provider, such as your primary care physician and physical therapist
10. Listen to Your Body
Ultimately, listening to your body is the best post-marathon recovery tip. Respect the signs it gives you, such as fatigue, soreness, or joint pain. If something doesn’t feel right, consult a healthcare provider and take the necessary steps to recover properly after your race.
By listening to your body, you can avoid unnecessary injury and set yourself up for success with your next big running goal.
The key is to remember that recovery is just as important as training. Take the time to nourish your body and mind, and you’ll be rewarded with future successful race day experiences.
11. Return to Everything Gradually
Although it might feel tempting, don’t rush your return to running. Returning to normal activities too suddenly can lead to injury or further damage. Instead, ease back in gradually, particularly running and heavier strength training.
When you’re ready to start running, do a few shorter low-intensity runs first and assess how it feels. From there, slowly build mileage, time, and intensity as you feel physically and mentally ready for it over the course of a few weeks. Don’t expect to get back to your pre-race level too quickly.
Follow this same weight-lifting strategy, starting lighter and gradually returning to pre-run exercises.
What to Avoid After a Marathon
There are a few key things to avoid after running a marathon too. By avoiding these, you can boost your recovery potential after a marathon.
1. Immediate Static Stretching
After a race, it’s best to avoid static stretches for the first few hours. This is because your muscles are still in a state of repair and need time to recover before stretching them out again. Once you’ve given your body time to cool down and replenished it with fluid and food, you can try a gentle stretching routine, targeting sore muscle groups in your legs, arms, and trunk.
2. Drinking to Celebrate
It’s important to remember that drinking alcohol can significantly impede your recovery. It can interfere with the rebuilding of muscle tissue and hinder the process of restoring glycogen stores. Instead, celebrate your accomplishment with friends and family healthily (or a nap).
After your race, try to refrain from a beer or any other alcohol, at a minimum, until you are re-hydrated.
3. Sitting Around in Sweaty Clothes
Wearing sweaty race clothes for too long can attract bacteria and cause infection, especially if you have any skin sores from chafing. Plus, sitting in sweaty clothes is uncomfortable.
Shower, change into clean clothes as soon as possible, and ensure your body is dry. This will help you cool down and start your recovery process feeling good.
4. Take Ibuprofen
It’s best to avoid anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) as they can reduce the body’s ability to repair. Plus, it’s hard on the liver, an organ that you want functioning fully as you recover
If you feel like your soreness is excessive, consult a healthcare provider before taking any medications for pain.
5. Start Running Too Early
Although it might feel like a great idea, don’t rush back into running after your marathon (this is being repeated again because it’s very important).
6. Ignoring the Symptoms of Injury
Pay attention to any signs of injuries, such as excessive joint or muscle pain. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist with any concerns to address any problems before they worsen.
Post Marathon Recovery: FAQ
Now that you know how to recover from a marathon, let’s review some commonly asked questions.
How long do I need to take a break from running?
Studies show that the body’s inflammatory markers can take up to 4 weeks to return to normal. Runners typically take 1 to 4 weeks before returning to a running routine.
Do I really have to take a break?
Yes, it’s important to take a break after running a marathon. This period of rest gives your body time to recover and repair from the race. Without a rest period, you risk overtraining and potential injury.
How long will my muscles be sore after a marathon?
Muscle soreness generally peaks 24 to 72 hours after a race. This type of soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), common with high-intensity exercise like a race. You can expect the soreness to last for two to five days.
How long will I feel tired after a marathon?
There are many physical and mental reasons to feel tired after a marathon. It usually takes at least two weeks for the body to recover from a marathon and your energy levels to return to normal.
What is a typical recovery timeline after running a marathon?
Your personalized recovery can carry greatly. A typical timeline for marathon recovery is as follows:
- 1-2 Weeks: Refuel the body with plenty of fluids, protein, and carbohydrates. Begin light exercises such as walking and yoga.
- 2-4 Weeks: Slowly increase the intensity of workouts as the body recovers, focusing on stretching and strengthening muscles with light running, weight training, and continuing low-impact exercise.
- 3-6 Weeks: Gradually increase running mileage and intensity, respecting any muscle soreness or fatigue.
- 4-8 Weeks: Return to a full running program focusing on speed and endurance.
Post Marathon Recovery: Do What Works Best for You
Regardless of your recovery timeline, listen to your body and take the necessary time. By following the tips above, you are well on your way to a successful marathon recovery.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to post-marathon recovery. Simply be patient and focus on giving your body exactly what it needs.