Post Marathon Recovery: 13 Expert Tips For A Fast Recuperation

Our expert coach gives you her best tips to get back out there as fast and healthy as possible.

Whether it’s your first marathon or you have enough marathon finisher’s medals to line an entire wall, your body needs to recover any time you finish a marathon.

In fact, some running coaches call the marathon recovery period the 27th mile of the race to show how it’s an integral part of the marathon experience and that you’re not really done with the race until you’re fully recovered.

In this guide, we will show you why post-race recovery is so important to include your marathon training plan and how long it actually takes to recuperate so that you can design your very own marathon recovery plan.

Post Marathon Recovery

Why Is Post-Marathon Recovery So Important?

One of the allures of the marathon is that the 26.2-mile distance is attainable but very challenging. Finishing a marathon is an impressive feat because it requires physical and mental grit, as well as consistent, dedicated training.

However, a marathon is taxing on the body, and jumping back into training too soon can increase the risk of overuse injuries and overtraining.  

No runner wants to be out of the game, so respect the recovery process!

How Long Should You Rest After a Marathon?

Many runners aren’t sure how long to wait to run after a marathon. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. How long you should wait to run after a marathon is individualized to each runner and even each race for that runner.

When comparing the post-marathon recovery of two different marathon runners who took on the same race, factors such as intensity level, age, sex, fitness, general health and nutritional status, hydration tactics, and recovery strategy can all affect how long it takes to recover.

The same runner may also have a different post-marathon recovery timeline for two different races. 

Post Marathon Recovery

For example, runners may find that their bodies feel relatively normal and ready to run after three or four days after one marathon, but recovery takes closer to a week or ten days following another marathon. 

Differences and individual needs aside, most running coaches recommend taking at least 3-7 days off from running after a marathon to allow your body to recover before adding more stress through training.

Most runners should take at least the first week off of running after a marathon.

More conservative coaches say this time off should be extended to two weeks or more. The key is to listen to your body. Do not run if you are still sore and your body feels like resting. It should, you’ve just put a whole lot of hard work in!

Post Marathon Recovery

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Marathon?

Even though each runner’s recovery will vary, studies show the body may take up to 4 weeks or so to recover from a marathon fully.

Another study1Hikida, R. S., Staron, R. S., Hagerman, F. C., Sherman, W. M., & Costill, D. L. (1983). Muscle fiber necrosis associated with human marathon runners. Journal of the Neurological Sciences59(2), 185–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-510X(83)90037-0 found that post-marathon muscle damage can linger for up to 14 days after the race, resulting in a loss of muscular power.

The immune system is also compromised after a marathon, so it’s important to limit your exposure to illnesses and germs in the days following race day.

13 Expert Post-Marathon Recovery Tips

#1: Start Recovery Right Away

What you do and don’t do immediately after you cross the finish line impacts the entire arc of your post-marathon recovery. 

Adopt a mindset that the post-marathon recovery period is an inextricable component and just as important as the race itself.

You took your training seriously and put your heart and soul into the race, so you should attack the recovery with the same resolve and dedication.

Post Marathon Recovery

#2: Keep Moving At the Finish 

Resist the urge to plop down in an exhausted and exhilarated heap at the finish line.

Walking at least 10-15 minutes right after a marathon can help flush the metabolic byproducts (previously thought of as the famous lactic acid) out of your legs and bring new oxygen and nutrients to your tired muscles, facilitating healing and reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

#3: Stretch

After you cool down you can add in some light stretching to your post-race routine. Ensure you don’t strain your muscles too much by overstretching. Stretch gently to feel relief, not pain.

#4: Refuel As Soon As Possible

One key expert tip for fast post-marathon recovery is to refuel as soon as possible after the race. It’s crucial to get in carbohydrates and proteins (ideally at 3:1 or 4:1 ratio in terms of grams of carbs to protein). 

Refueling can help fuel depleted muscles, replenish glycogen stores, and start repairing muscle damage from the race.

If you can’t stomach solid foods, start with sports drinks, a protein shake, chocolate milk, or even a milkshake. 

Continue fueling properly into the next day.

Post Marathon Recovery

#5: Rehydrate

Running a marathon causes you to lose more fluids than you might think, so ensure you drink enough after the race, including fluids with electrolytes.

Your urine should return to pale yellow by 24 hours, preferably sooner.

#6: Put On Dry Clothes

It might sound like more of a matter of comfort than actually aiding post-marathon recovery, but changing out of your damp and sweaty running clothes and putting on warm, dry clothes can prevent unnecessary shivering, which can rob your body of the energy needed to recover. 

Shivering also utilizes your muscles, and your muscles are spent after a marathon. We want to put them into relaxation and recovery mode, not ask them to do more work.

#7: Do NOT Take Anti-Inflammatories

One of the top expert tips for fast post-marathon recovery is to resist the urge to take ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory painkillers. These medications can further tax your liver, kidneys, and GI tract, which are already stressed from the marathon.

Additionally, anti-inflammatories can inhibit exercise recovery by attenuating the necessary inflammatory process muscles need to heal.

Post Marathon Recovery

#8: Go Easy On Post-Marathon Beer

A cold beer after a marathon or celebratory cocktails at dinner may seem appealing at the moment (and deserved!), but alcohol can inhibit post-marathon recovery.

While one drink won’t derail your marathon recovery, experts agree that if you want to recover quickly, going easy on alcohol is a good idea.

Alcohol not only contributes to dehydration but can also interfere with the effectiveness of your post-marathon fueling by delaying the absorption of the carbohydrates and protein you’re investing in that post-marathon meal.

#9: Consider a Nap

Particularly if you woke up early for the race or slept poorly, taking a 90-minute nap a few hours after you’ve crossed the line can help encourage recovery. 

Getting adequate sleep in the nights following the race is equally important.

Post Marathon Recovery

#10: Use Recovery Boots

Recovery boots, such as the Therabody RecoveryAir PRO, are crucial to the workout recovery regime of elite athletes, including marathoners.

The Therabody RecoveryAir PRO boots provide pneumatic pressure to your entire lower limbs to encourage circulation and lymphatic drainage.

Athletes report that Therabody RecoveryAir PRO boots can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle fatigue, swelling, and stiffness.

Using pneumatic compression boots in the post-marathon recovery period can hasten recovery and help you get back to running sooner.

#11: Engage In Active Recovery

While you should definitely take days off from running after the marathon and significantly reduce the intensity of your training, you don’t have to be inactive

Light exercise, such as walking, swimming, elliptical, and riding an exercise bike the day after the marathon, can help speed up recovery time.

Light, low-impact cross-training exercise increases circulation, warms up your muscles and can reduce stiffness and discomfort.

Post Marathon Recovery

#12: Get a Massage

A good sports massage isn’t just a luxurious indulgence but also a tip for fast post-marathon recovery. Massage increases circulation, mobility, and range of motion in tight and sore muscles. 

If you can’t afford a session with a professional masseuse or physical therapist, ask a partner for a rub down, use a massage gun, or try self-myofascial release techniques like foam rolling.

#13: Try Contrast Baths

Alternating soaks in the tub with ice baths and warm baths can help speed up post-marathon recovery. Ice baths may reduce DOMS, while warm soaks provide compression and increase blood flow.  

There you have it! You’ve run your marathon; now rest up and recover to get at it again.

If you’ve mastered the marathon distance and want to consider ultras, check out our tips on choosing your first ultramarathon!

References

  • 1
    Hikida, R. S., Staron, R. S., Hagerman, F. C., Sherman, W. M., & Costill, D. L. (1983). Muscle fiber necrosis associated with human marathon runners. Journal of the Neurological Sciences59(2), 185–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-510X(83)90037-0
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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