Fitness Articles

Post-Marathon Recovery Tips

Rest and Feel Better after the Big Race

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Running a marathon can be one of the greatest and most challenging experiences of your life.   I can’t say that I always love training for these races, but the feeling of accomplishment I experience when I cross the finish line is like no other.  That feeling is what keeps me (and a lot of other marathoners) coming back again and again. 

It’s easy to put all of your focus on preparing for the race, training to be able to complete the 26.2 mile distance.  But what about after the race is over?  It’s important to create a post-marathon recovery plan that gives your body the rest it needs while allowing you to maintain the fitness level you’ve worked so hard to achieve. 

There are different schools of thought about the best way to recover in the days and weeks after a marathon.  Some experts suggest one day of rest for each mile run, which would mean no strenuous running for at least 26 days.  Others think that’s too long, and you really need just a week or two of rest before resuming activity.  In my experience, we all recover at different rates.  What’s important is to develop a recovery plan that works best for you, based on a few basic principles.
  • Just as your marathon taper was probably a little scary, the idea of resting in the days after the race might be a little discomforting for some.  But rest is important and essential after such a physical feat. You will not lose your fitness level overnight—or even within a couple of weeks. Rest doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch all day; in fact, that could make any discomfort and soreness worse.  Going for a light walk followed by gentle stretching can ease muscle soreness and make you feel more comfortable. Stay moving with active recovery, but keep it easy and low-intensity.
  • Don’t use this recovery time as an excuse to eat lots of junk food.  It’s okay to recognize a job well done with your favorite hot fudge sundae if that’s what you choose, but remember that good nutrition enhances recovery.  Giving your body the nutrients it needs helps aid in muscle repair and regrowth.  You may find your appetite is a little higher in the hours or few days following a marathon, so listen to what your body needs without going overboard.
  • When you do decide to ease back into running, start with a short, easy run that’s no more than a few miles long.  Pushing yourself too hard can end up delaying the recovery process even further.
  • Incorporating more cross-training into your routine, especially over the first few weeks, is a good way to give your running muscles a rest while still keeping your fitness level up. Discover the best cross-training activities for runners.
  • Listen to your body.  What works for one person might not work for another.  While your friend might be able to get back to running within a week or two, you may need two or three weeks—and that’s okay.  We all recover differently depending on our bodies and fitness levels. 
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

    This article is really nice but i guess the author should have guided us with more practical advise. - 10/15/2013 11:18:59 AM
  • Much more to it than putting in the training, psyching and covering the miles - WOW ! - 9/30/2012 5:17:50 PM
  • This was a nice article, but I sort of wish it had more specific, practical advice. Like:

    - How long should I wait before running again? What should my maximum distance be on those runs?
    - How many more calories should I consume after completing a marathon, and for how long?
    - How much more sleep should I get?
    - Are there certain nutrients I should try to consume more of after the race, to aid recovery?

    I just completed a half-marathon on Saturday, and I'm trying to take it easy this week, even though I'm sort of antsy to get out there again. I start training for my first marathon in early June, and I've read (in Hal Higdon's marathon guide) that it's important to take it easy between training bouts, especially before marathon training. I'm just trying to gather as much information as I can, so that I can make informed decisions about training and recovery.

    And I'm definitely experiencing the post-race blues a little, especially I don't have running this week to help clear my head! - 5/9/2012 11:51:31 AM
  • Nice article- sadly enough I doubt very much I will EVER be in good enough shape to worry about this. - 5/4/2011 9:54:58 PM
  • Nice article- sadly enough I doubt very much I will EVER be in good enough shape to worry about this. - 5/4/2011 9:54:51 PM
  • The most important part of recovery after a maraton, rehydrating and eating shortly after finishing. Massaging sore muscles... and stretching out really good.

    Cross training is a great idea. It's been shown that swimming speeds up recovery after hard runs or races. Keeping your metabolism up speeds recovery. Cycling is good too, slightly different muscles groups and not impact to joints.

    I'm usually doing a short run 2 days after the event.

    It does get easier. After my first marathon (that I likely didn't train enough for), I could barely walk when I went grocery shopping ht next day. I literally used the shopping cart as a walker. But what I did a 50k trial run 3 months later, I was sore, but able to walked ok the next day and was training again normally a week later. - 5/4/2011 11:09:26 AM
  • 16 weeks? I used Galloway's plan to train for a half marathon, and it was 20 weeks. I used his marathon plan too, that one was 6 months. - 2/20/2011 12:04:20 AM
  • I'll be going to Hawaii three weeks after - perfect! - 9/15/2009 3:23:08 PM
  • I have a half marathon scheduled a week after my first marathon. Massage, ice bath, hot yoga will be keys to my recovery during that week. - 4/27/2009 5:01:29 AM
  • I am glad to see this. I just did my first and remember promising myself time off. Funny that I was right back out there on schedule that same week. My mileage has been lower, but I probably should take that promised week off now before training starts for the next one in just 8 short weeks. - 10/29/2008 11:02:40 AM
  • Very good insights - we _do_ usually forget to plan for after! And what stays with me the most is the statement: It doesn’t matter whether you come in first or 1,029th, you can always say "I finished." There is so much happiness in crossing that line.

    There really IS. I've done it twice now, once with NO training at all, and once following Hal Higdon's training schedule. Both times, I was exhausted. The first time, I lucked out - I did the marathon at the start of a fabulous vacation in Hawaii ... can you say rest and relaxation?

    The next time, I WILL keep these tips in mind. :)

    - Maya
    - 8/18/2008 12:25:34 PM
  • Wayne Dyer said when he lined up for his first marathon race he told himself "Wayne, the only way you will NOT finish this is because you are dead and they had to carry you off the course!" I love that determination to get to the GOAL. - 6/7/2008 7:09:46 PM
    I wish I had read this before I did my Marathon as I sure wasn't prepared for the after Marathon Blues but they sure happened - nice to know they are a normal part of the experience. - 3/8/2008 8:34:33 PM

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