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Half Marathon Recovery Guide: How To Recover From A Half Marathon

Tips for recovering, refuelling and rehydrating after the race.

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Half marathon recovery is one of the least glamorous aspects of your half marathon. Once you cross that finish line, the last thing you want to do is follow another schedule (unless you’re the kind of person who thrives on schedules). 

But the recovery is just as important as the miles you put in during training. 

In fact, recovering effectively post-race will affect your future half marathons (and maybe a full marathon if that’s the next step in your running journey). 

How? 

Because recovery alters your perspective on how the run went, if you don’t recover, you’ll feel exhausted, have muscle soreness, and you’ll feel that you’re not ready to continue running more in the future. 

Let’s look at how to recover after a half marathon!

A woman drinking water with the words "half marathon recovery" in the foreground.

What Happens In Our Bodies During Post-Half Marathon Recovery

Knowing what happens in your body while running and recovering will help you recover better. 

Your muscles are full of adenosine triphosphate (also called ATP). These are molecules that carry energy within the muscles’ cells. The body makes them with food like carbohydrates and sugar. 

The cells break down glycogen (your running fuel) by pulling glucose from your blood. When this happens, the muscles unleash lactic acid.

Your heart then beats faster, which shoots more blood toward your muscles (that’s why your face turns red). That blood moves away from other organs which causes you to breathe heavily and elevates your temperature, making you sweat. 

This whole process causes microscopic tears in your muscle fibers while you run. After the run, the upturn of your system (heavy breathing, sweat, blood in different places) needs to go back to normal so it can repair and rebuil those muscle fibers. 

All of this makes your body stronger and more adaptable. It prevents injury and boosts your immune system

That may sound complicated, so we’ll break the recovery process into stages. 

A runner wearing blue grabbing a drink.

The Stages Of Half Marathon Recovery

Rebuilding your muscles to gear up for more training involves two stages: immediate and delayed

1. Immediate

This takes place right after you run and the hours following. Your body finishes sweating and returns to a calm state. You need to replace your sugar levels and ease muscle tension. 

2. Delayed

This stage happens during the evening of the race (typically, you run in the morning and finish by late morning or early afternoon) and the week following your race. 

Your goal is to keep muscles loose and build the muscles up by accumulating the work you’ve put in from past workouts. You rebuild for greater strength in the long haul. 

What Are The Best Recovery Strategies After Completing A Half Marathon?

A runner next to a lake stretching.

To break those stages up in even further, here is the ideal half marathon recovery schedule. Follow it, and you’ll be back on the trail in no time, full of energy and enthusiasm to conquer more miles. 

On race day, you should:

Recovery Plan: Right After The Race:

When can I eat after a half marathon? The name of this game is refuel and rehydrate.1Sousa, M., Teixeira, V. H., & Soares, J. (2014). Dietary strategies to recover from exercise-induced muscle damage. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition65(2), 151–163. https://doi.org/10.3109/09637486.2013.849662

‌First, walk for 10-15 minutes to cool down and stop sweating. 

Get electrolytes and calories into your system to jumpstart your recovery. Water should provide plenty of electrolytes, but Gatorade will dump even more into your system. 

Eat a banana.

Drink more water.

Eat something with carbs and protein2Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery. (2018). Nutrients10(3), 333. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030333. Bonus points if you also take in sugar to replenish glycogen stores. An energy bar usually works well for this. 

Change into some warm, dry clothes and get out of your sweaty ones to get your circulation back to normal. 

Do some simple stretches and/or some foam rolling on a foam roller to ease your muscles and put them in relaxation mode. 

One Hour After Your Run:

A runner eating lots of food on the couch.

Rather than going barefoot, wear some running shoes that are lightweight and supportive to keep your arches in good condition. 

Eat a hearty, healthy meal. I know you’re wondering if now is a good time for a juicy burger and fries. While calories are definitely not an issue, your body needs something packed with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and vitamin-restoring vegetables.3Bongiovanni, T., Genovesi, F., Nemmer, M., Carling, C., Alberti, G., & Howatson, G. (2020). Nutritional interventions for reducing the signs and symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage and accelerate recovery in athletes: current knowledge, practical application and future perspectives. European Journal of Applied Physiology120(9), 1965–1996. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04432-3

To satisfy your appetite and craving, a big chicken burrito could be just the thing for your post run meal. Burritos have beans for carbohydrates, the chicken provides lean protein, avocado adds healthy fat. Bell peppers, spinach, or other vegetables will replenish your vitamins. 

You’ll also most likely want a cold beer, but experts say to limit alcoholic beverages to just one serving.  Even if you drink lots of water after the race, your body will still be dehydrated so the alcohol will keep you from repleneshing that hydration.

Consider getting a sports drink instead! 

The Remainder Of The First Day:

A woman wearing grey having a nap.

There are no complicated steps for you to take; after all, you already did the majority of the work running your half marathon recovery.

Just keep these recommendations in mind and enjoy your victory. 

Rest. What not to do after a half marathon? Don’t do any more exercise today.4Wiewelhove, T., Schneider, C., Döweling, A., Hanakam, F., Rasche, C., Meyer, T., Kellmann, M., Pfeiffer, M., & Ferrauti, A. (2018). Effects of different recovery strategies following a half-marathon on fatigue markers in recreational runners. PloS One13(11), e0207313. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207313

Ice. If your ankles or the balls of your feet are swollen, soak them in water or use an ice pack. 

If you’re feeling very brave, you can also utilize cold-water therapy by using an ice bath.

If you want something a little easier, perhaps an epsom salt bath.

Nap. If you’re feeling sleepy, don’t fight it. Indulge in some afternoon shut-eye. 

The Next Day After Your Run: 

Two runners going for a run in the sun.

You might be so excited after your race that you’re ready to jump right back in and get started on your marathon training plan. Either that or you’re disappointed by your pace and are ready to improve the next one. 

You will probably experience some doms for a couple of days post-half marathon. If you are a regular distance runner, you may not even notice any sore muscles; however, if you are a beginner who has just run their first half marathon, then the general rule is… soreness.

Either way, don’t do any intense training post-run.

Some active recovery in the form of a light jog or any other non-impact exercise is a much better option. Walking, swimming, or cycling will keep your blood flowing and prevent your muscles from going into shock. 

Be sure to continue eating healthy meals and snacks since food plays a major part in energy and cardio fitness. 

Can I go on any easy runs?

Do a recovery run. While recovery runs are not required, they do come highly recommended. They are performed at low intensity and low heart rate, designed to keep your body from getting taxed. 

Increasing your blood flow in a non-threatening way helps flush any waste products from your blood (like lactic acid buildup). With an effective recovery run, you could cut the week of recovery time into just a few days. 

A clear rule of thumb for a successful recovery run is to listen to your body. Don’t let yourself get too out of breath, and don’t push your muscles to an uncomfortable place. 

Aim to run 20-30 minutes or 2-3 miles, but err on the side of running shorter and slower rather than longer or faster. It’s best to do the run within 24 hours of your race to get optimum results. 

If you need to completely rest, then take the day off!

The Week Following Your Race: 

A runner wearing blue runs on a tarmac road.

You can get back into running during this period, but it’s not recommended to start a full-on training plan for the week following your race. 

The transition back into running with light runs or crosstraining exercises like cycling, swimming, and hiking.

Strength training is also a good way to recover… just not heavy weight lifting. Do bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, squats, hill climbing, or crunches. 

Don’t forget to prioritize sleep. Try to get to bed early to allow those prime sleep hours before midnight. Adequate sleep is important for anytime during running training, but it shouldn’t be overlooked during your recovery period. 

Optional: get a massage! Now is the prime time to treat your muscles to relaxation and restoration.

How many days should you rest after a half marathon?

This week doesn’t necessarily have to be seven days. Just listen to your body. If it feels stronger and ready to get back into training, go for it! 

Additional Tips On Half Marathon Recovery

A runner drinking from an orange botle.

If you want your post-half marathon recovery to be as seamless as possible, remember to prevent problems before they happen. 

That means paying attention to minor injuries before they become major. Don’t push yourself too hard. Of course, you want to do your best, but that shouldn’t come at a price too high to pay

The best way to avoid pushing yourself too hard is to follow the right training plan for you. 

If you want more recovery tips, consider working with a running coach. They can give you great guidance on post-race recovery.

If you want a better finishing time in your next half marathon, download one of our free training programs to get the right start (and middle and end) in your next race! 

References

Photo of author
Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon.

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