4 Golden Rules For Marathon Recovery

4 Golden Rules For Marathon Recovery

First, congratulations! You just completed a marathon! While the hard work that comes with training and running the marathon is behind you, it is time to think about recovery.

Planning for recovery after a marathon is just as important as planning any other aspect of your training. There are a lot of factors that can affect recovery after a marathon; for example, the intensity of the race, hydration and fueling during the race, your overall health, and more. Every recovery is different but there are strategies you can use for optimal recovery. Make sure you check off the four golden rules of recovery listed below!

Keep Walking & Acute Recovery Strategies

After the race is over it is easy to want to stop and sit down, but try to keep moving to help clear out some of the metabolic waste that you have building up in your muscles. Continuing to walk after the marathon can allow your body to adjust back to normal life (remember it’s still in marathon mode!), your heart rate will decrease, and circulation can return to a resting state. Walk for 10-15 minutes; you can grab food, your drop bag, and a t-shirt after the race. 

Other things to do right after you finish the race:

  • Eat a small snack of easily digestible carbohydrates and protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing the marathon to replenish the fuel storage in your body, maintain blood sugar levels, and repair muscle tissue. Save a larger meal for later in the day when your appetite returns.
  • Drink fluids after the race and throughout the rest of the day to rehydrate.
  • After walking around for at least 10-15 minutes head over to the ice bath station prepared at the finish line to soak for 5-10 minutes, and consider putting on compression socks. These can both aid in speeding up the rate of healing and decreasing inflammation in your legs.

Roll, Stretch, Massage

Wait a couple hours (2-6) after the race to start stretching and foam rolling. Some people recommend to wait at least 24 hours before having a massage, however others recommend massage right after the race. Listen to your body and decide which is the best option for you. There are massage therapists at the end of the marathon available if you are someone who finds it helpful to get a massage soon after the race.

Active Recovery

A common mistake is to return to running too quickly after a marathon, so make sure you take a break. After a marathon your risk for injury is increased because your structural fitness has been weakened. It can take two weeks to a month to fully recover from a marathon. Even if you are feeling great 3-5 days after, muscular damage can take the full two weeks to fully heal, sometimes longer. During these two weeks:

  • Muscular strength is limited due to the inflammation and cell damage.
  • Immune function can be compromised, meaning it is easier to get sick. This is a great time to focus on nutrition, hydration, and getting great sleep.

So how do you get back into training without returning too quickly? Here is my recommendation:

  • Day after: easy 15-30 minutes of light exercise. This could be in the form of cross training (pool running, biking, walking, elliptical, etc.).
  • 2-5 Days:  Let your body rest and recover. If you are itching to move, head to the gym for a no impact, easy workout like pool running or cycling.

Easing Back Into Training

  • 6-10 Days: About a week after the marathon start some exercise again, this can be in the form of cross training, light strength workouts, and flexibility exercises. After 2-4 days of cross training, try the first run after the marathon to see how your body reacts. This run should be used as a check in run to see if you have any pain, discomfort, and what muscles (if any) are still sore or tight.
  • 11+ Days:  Gradually return to your training program. Start with lower mileage, shorter workouts, and slower paces. These workouts should be easy conversational paced workouts, tempo runs, or steady state runs.
  • 3-4 Weeks: These workouts can become more challenging, but should not be as challenging as when you were in peak training for the marathon.

Keep in mind that everyone will recover differently. The recommendations above are just that, recommendations. Listen to your body and do what you think will help you to recover!

Remember that recovery starts with training. While rest, ice, hydration, nutrition, and sleep all play a big role in recovery after the marathon, if you are trained and prepared for the marathon, recovery will be that much faster.

Happy Recovery!

Tunnel Marathons Personal Trainer