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Marathon Training Recovery: How To Recover Quickly After A Workout

Post-race isn't the only time you need to worry about recovering well.

Training for a marathon is grueling work.

You run mile after mile on a tired body, often at the end of a long work day, and then have to get up the next day and do it all over again.

Almost every week you have to build up and increase your mileage to get the necessary training in. 

Between your interval work, easy runs, strength training, and cross-training, you may want to take a break from your marathon training plan by the time the end of the week comes rolling around. 

But then the weekend creeps up and a nice, long 15 miler is waiting for you! That’s not the recovery time you were hoping for!

If you don’t recover well and get enough rest, you can easily become injured, fatigued, sleep-deprived, demotivated, or all of the above.

Marathon training definitely requires a strong measure of willpower and determination. But you can make things easier on yourself by focusing on recovery.

After each training session, you can take steps to accelerate your muscle repair, restock your glycogen stores, and prepare for the next run

In this guide, we will look at the key principles of marathon training recovery so you are strong and prepared to get to that marathon finish line.

Marathon Training Recovery: How To Recover Quickly After A Workout 1

#1: Eat Right

As soon as you finish your training session, your body is depleted and looking to refuel.

As part of your marathon training recovery, aim to have a medium-sized meal within 30 minutes of completing each run.

Why so soon?

Your body recognizes that its glycogen levels are depleted and that your muscles have worked hard, so it actively hunts for sources of carbohydrates and protein.

Nutritionists recommend a 3:1 carb/protein ratio. This means that for every 3g of carbohydrates you consume, you should have 1g of protein.

The sooner you can deliver this food, the more effective the recovery process will be.

We therefore recommend a good-sized portion of food as soon as your appetite allows for it.

Remember, focus on choosing something that is rich in both carbs and protein.

Some recovery food ideas include:

  • A medium serving of pasta with meatballs
  • A recovery smoothie with vanilla protein powder, peanut butter, and oats
  • A loaded omelet on toast
  • Chocolate milk, chicken breast, greek yogurt, and protein bars all do the job, too!
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#2: Massage and Foam Rolling

Massaging tired muscles is a form of myofascial release, which is the process of relieving stress in soft tissues.  By breaking down and loosening tightness in muscles, you are promoting healthy and full muscular regeneration.

When you’re in marathon training, you want to focus on all parts of the lower body where you will most likely experience the most muscle soreness.

After logging many miles, the upper legs (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip area) are particularly susceptible to tightness and weakness.

The best form of massage is simply hiring a masseuse to give you regular sports massages. However, this won’t be feasible for everyone.

Costs aside, the best time for massage is immediately following your run workout; trying to coordinate this with a masseuse might not always be so practical.

So, what other options exist?

The number one option is a foam roller. foam roller allows you to massage your joints and lower-body muscles, reducing inflammation in the soft tissue and aiding recovery.

How To Incorporate Foam Rolling Into Your Run Training and Marathon Training Recovery

Foam roll for 5 minutes before each run, and 10 minutes afterwards.

Spend 1-2 minutes on each main area, working gradually up and around each leg, ensuring you cover key areas like the glutes, IT band, piriformis, hamstrings, and quads.

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Foam rolling the glutes

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Foam rolling the IT Band

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Foam rolling the quads

Other Forms of Self-Massage for Runners

 In addition to foam rolling, there are various options for providing myofascial release and smoothing out stressed muscles.

Here are a few of our favorites for marathon training recovery!

TriggerPoint Massage Ball

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These little balls are specifically designed for self-massage; the material is forgiving enough to allow deep pressure to be applied, much like a masseuse’s thumbs.

It’s small enough to fit inside your gym bag or take to the office, and can be used to work the entire body! 

Treat it like a mini-foam roller.

Gaiam Restore Foot Roller

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Perfect for massaging tired feet after a long run (or just a long day in office shoes), this roller is also comfortable to use as you relax in front of the TV each evening.

The trigger point features specifically target the stressed parts of your soles; this is the closest you can get to having a private reflexologist in your home!

RENPHO Leg Massager

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This leg massage tool is simply awesome. It uses air pressure to provide various levels of compression to your feet, calves, and thighs.

This can be a good way of increasing blood flow following a workout, and gently massaging tired muscles.

It really has to be tried to be appreciated !

M3 Pro Massage Gun 

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If you’re looking to get serious on your self-massage, get a massage gun.

The G3 Pro is a perfect option—it’s handheld and provides a concentrated, deep pulse to your strained muscles, essentially a targeted deep-tissue massage.

It’s what the pros are using.

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#3: Cold Therapy

When we’re talking about cold therapy, there are a few different methods to discuss.

First, let’s cover the fundamentals behind it:

When exposed to the cold, your blood vessels constrict. 

Once they get a chance to warm up again, blood flushes through them, helping to clear out lactic acid and allowing for a faster recovery.   

The cold exposure should also help reduce swelling and inflammation.

While ice baths are a great option, somehow, getting hold of all that ice and having it ready after each run is just not practical!

Some of the best alternatives are:

Cold Water Plunge Pools

Many gyms and spas have these small pools, which are specifically maintained at cold temperatures.

Submerse yourself in one post-run for as long as you comfortably can, then take a warm shower to heat up and flush out that lactic acid!

Alternatives to this can be cold outdoor swimming pools, or if you’re feeling brave and really want to cool down – the ocean! 

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This guy’s getting ready to flush out those pesky lactic acids

FlexiKold Ice Packs

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An ice pack, such as the FlexiKold Ice Pack, is a great way to target tired muscles and inflamed joints.

Take it out of the freezer and wrap it around the knee, hip, or leg you wish to target, and let the cool sensation soothe your body. It’s also useful for injury recovery!

#4: Rehydrate!

This is a simple point, but remember to rehydrate after your run!

Runners sweat more fluid than they can consume while running. Therefore, one of the first things you should do after a run is to replenish your H20 levels!

It helps with circulation, lowers core temperature, and lubricates the joints.

Make sure your hydration consists of more than just water, so you are able to replenish electrolytes as well as fluid. Most sports drinks contain electrolytes and are a great way to hydrate after hard training.

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#5: Other Recovery Tips

I surveyed our community of marathon runners in training, and got the following suggestions for recovery aids:

  • Epsom salts in a hot bath are popular. They have a soothing quality that can help relax your muscles and help you unwind!
  • Using Deep Heat or Tiger Balm on the major leg muscles can really soothe aches and help your muscles relax.
  • Finally, a few runners suggested beer and ice cream. Sometimes, it is just as important to give yourself a reward as it is to be constantly focused on your goal.

***

As you can see, it’s not just post-race or post-marathon recovery you need to worry about, but recovery throughout the entirety of your training.

Sleep is another important part of your marathon recovery plan. The number of hours of sleep you need and the amount of deep sleep you need are all important factors when training for a marathon.

Check out this next guide for tips on sleep:

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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