Regardless if it’s your first attempt at the distance or you have enough marathon finisher’s medals to line an entire wall, any time you finish a marathon, your body needs to recover.
In fact, some running coaches call the recovery period for the marathon to be the 27th mile of the race, as a means to show how it’s an integral part of the marathon experience, and you’re not really done with the race until you’re fully recovered.
But, how long does it take to recover from a marathon? What is the best way to recover from a marathon? Are there any expert tips for post marathon recovery? Keep reading to find out.
In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- Why Is Recovery From a Marathon So Important?
- How Long to Wait to Run After a Marathon
- How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Marathon?
- 13 Expert Tips for Fast Post Marathon Recovery
Let’s jump in!
Why Is Recovery From a Marathon So Important?
One of the allures of the marathon is that the 26.2-mile distance is surmountable but very challenging. Finishing a marathon is an impressive feat because it takes physical and mental grit on top of consistent, dedicated training.
But, for these reasons, a marathon is taxing on the body, and jumping back into training too soon can increase your risk of overuse injuries and overtraining.
How Long to Wait to Run 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 to 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 runners who took on the same race, factors such as effort or intensity level during the race, age, sex, fitness level, general health and nutritional status, hydration tactics, and recovery strategy can all affect how long it takes to recover from the race and thus how long to wait to run after a marathon.
The same runner may also have a different post marathon recovery timeline for two different races.
For example, the runner may find that their body feels relatively normal and ready to run after three or four days after one marathon, but the recovery takes closer to a week or ten days following another marathon.
Various factors can play into these differences in how long it takes to feel like you’re ready to run after a marathon. The weather, course terrain hydration status, fueling strategy before, during, and after the race, effort level, and recovery strategy can all affect a post marathon recovery timeline.
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. However, a 3-day break is inadvisable. Most runners should take at least one full week off of running after a marathon.
More conservative coaches say this time off should be extended up to two weeks or more. The key is to listen to your body. Do not run if you are still sore and tired.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Marathon?
As just mentioned, post marathon recovery depends on different factors and can be individualized, so there’s no easy answer to the common question, how long does it take to recover from a marathon?
However, studies show the body may take up to 4 weeks or so to fully recover from a marathon. Another study found that post marathon muscle damage can linger for up to 14 days after the race, with resultant 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 your marathon.
13 Expert Tips for Fast Post Marathon Recovery
#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.
#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 out of your legs and bring new oxygen and nutrients to your tired muscles, facilitating healing and reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
#3: Don’t Stretch
Static stretching right after you cross the finish line might seem like a good idea, but it can exacerbate post marathon muscle damage.
On the other hand, stretching the next day, and days after that, can help speed up marathon recovery, provided you warm up first and stretch gently;
#4: Refuel As Soon As Possible
One of the key expert tips 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 a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 in terms of grams of carbohydrates 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.
You lose more fluids than you might think running a marathon, so ensure you’re drinking enough after the race. Your urine should return to pale yellow by 24 hours, or 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.
#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 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.
#10: Use Recovery Boots
One of the best expert tips for fast post marathon recovery is to use a pair of recovery compression boots. Recovery boots, such as the Therabody RecoveryAir PRO, are a crucial part of 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 time 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 you recover faster from a marathon.
Light, low-impact cross-training exercise increases circulation, warms up your muscles and can reduce stiffness and discomfort.
#12: Get a Massage
A good sports massage isn’t just a luxurious indulgence; it is 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, 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 that marathon distance and want to look into ultras, take a look at our tips on how to choose your first ultramarathon!