How To Recover After Running A Marathon

Knowing how to properly recover from a marathon is as important as is knowing how to prepare for running one. Unfortunately, many runners tend to neglect this fact, especially newbies in marathon running.

Properly handling the recovery from a marathon or half marathon will reduce the risk of sustaining injuries, and will ensure that you stay healthy and fit, so that you can continuously improve your personal running results.

Not following an appropriate post-marathon recovery plan can also lead to overtraining. This is a common occurrence because of the insistence of runners to get back to racing and training right after running a marathon. This though, according to experienced coaches will lead to overtraining, fatigue, worsening of the running performance and results, as well as possibly to injuries.

Following a recovery plan will help you stay in shape and get you back on the track as soon as possible without all the above mentioned risks.

First of all, it is crucial to know what the body experiences when you run a marathon. It is pretty obvious that all of your body systems, including your bones, muscles, tendons, cells, hormones and others are put to a serious stress during a marathon. The fact that you have been meticulously training for the marathon and that you have ran through the entire 26.2 miles, means that you have pushed your body to a maximum.

The body systems which are most affected need the time and the appropriate care to recover and get back to their normal fitness and health levels before you can start training and racing once again.

The soreness and the fatigue of the muscles following a marathon are an obvious sign that the skeletal muscle has suffered some damage and stress, and that it needs recuperating and proper care. Studies show that marathon training and racing leads to the inflammation and necrosis of the muscle fibers. This causes an impairment of the power of your muscles for up to two weeks after you have completed the marathon.

Also, your body cells suffer damage from the oxidation resulting from the intensive training and running. This leads to a boost in the production of creatinine kinase in your tissues and a boost of myoglobin in the blood stream. This boost can continue for 4 to 7 days after the marathon has been completed, which suggests that runners need at least 7 to 10 days of rest after every marathon they run.

Another system which gets compromised from the training and the marathon itself is your immune system. A suppressed immune system will make you more prone to flu, viruses as well as to overtraining, if you do not let it recover properly and take proper care to boost it back up to its normal levels after each marathon. To do this, it is crucial to rest properly and get sufficient nutrition form healthy food which is rich in nutrients for at least three days after you have run those 26.2 miles.

Given all of this body system damage, the general recommendation from professional coaches and runners is that a recovery plan is followed for at least two to three weeks after a marathon, so that they are all properly rejuvenated and rested before you get back to training intensively or racing once again.

This post-marathon recovery plan should include the following steps and care you need to take:

  1. Right after you have passed the finish line, make sure you put on your warm clothes on as soon as possible to avoid getting cold.
  2. Try to get hold of something to eat as soon as you cross that finish line. Eat an energy bar, banana, a bagel, some fruits and drink a sports drink.
  3. Consider taking an ice bath for about 15 minutes. Fill the bathtub with water at 55-65 degrees with some ice and submerge your body in it.
  4. If you can, try to sleep after the bath. If you can’t nap, keep walking around to make sure you loosen up your tired stressed legs.
  5. Avoid any running or cross training in the first 3 days after a marathon.
  6. In the first three days of recovery, remember to take hot baths, stretch and eat carbs, proteins and fruits to help repair the damage done to the muscles and to boost the immune system. You can also try some light massages to loosen up the muscles during those first 3 days.
  7. From days 4 to 7 after a marathon, you can start with one easy 2-4 mile easy run and two 30-40 cross training sessions. You should continue eating healthy and nutritious food, and can now get that deep massage if you feel that your muscles need it. If you can you can try with some contrast bathing between cold baths and hot baths for 5 minutes each to improve the blood flow to and from the muscles. End with the cold bath. You can also massage and soak your legs in some hot water with Epsom Salt and baking soda before bed.
  8. When you reach days 7 to 14, you can now do three or four 4-6 mile easy runs, and three sessions of cross training (one easy and two medium ones).
  9. After the 14th day until day 21, you can begin slowly getting back to running by doing 4 or 5 4-8 mile runs completed with 4×20 second strides. You can also get back to cross training with one easy, one medium and then one hard workout.

Don’t be tempted to shorten the recovery period and to jump back into training before these 21 days are over! You will not be losing that much of your fitness, but you will be keeping yourself from getting overtrained and even worse suffer a mild to serious injury if you do not let yourself recover properly!

You shouldn’t schedule your next marathon until at least six weeks after the previous one.


Guest Post – Written by Cara Haley: Cara is an editor, writer and researcher who has been featured in various online publications. She manages a number of websites including Fitaholic Gear – a site focused on sports shoes and gear, and Comfort Hacks, which focuses on giving advice to runners with feet problems.