Fitness Articles

Post-Marathon Recovery Tips

Rest and Feel Better after the Big Race

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. 
In the days after your race:
  • Give yourself at least a few days of complete rest.  Some experts recommend even longer, but I find that doing a very short run (two miles) 2-3 days after the race helps relieve muscle soreness.  
  • Make sure you are eating well and getting plenty of sleep.  Don’t be surprised if you need a few extra hours of shut-eye at night, or feel the need for a midday nap.  Think about everything you just put your body through.  It deserves a little extra rest!
  • If the short run felt good, try a cross-training session of walking, swimming, biking or another low-impact activity a few days later.  Some people prefer to try the cross-training session first. Then, if all goes well, they will test out a short run later that week.  Whichever way works best for you is fine.
In the weeks after your race:
  • Continue alternating shorter running sessions with cross-training activities.  Now is the time to really listen to your body and decide if you’re starting to feel good again, or if you need to ease up a little and give your body more rest. 
  • Many marathoners start to increase mileage again about three weeks after the race is over.  That doesn’t mean going out for a 15-mile run right away. It's more reasonable to work back up to 6-8 miles (instead of the easy 2-4 miles you had been doing) as you feel ready. 
In the months after your race:
  • Don’t be surprised if you feel a little down after the race is over.  This might happen right away, or after you’ve recovered and you start to think, “Now what?”  One of the best ways to avoid this feeling is to set another fitness goal.  That could mean another marathon, a running/walking race of a different distance, or a completely different activity.  Have you considered trying a new sport, but didn’t have the time until now?  Maybe this is your chance to branch out and do something different!
  • If you decide to continue running but don’t have a specific goal in mind, don’t feel pressure to keep doing a lot of long distance training.  After my first few marathons, I desperately wanted to keep my endurance up by doing 10 or 15-mile runs on the weekends.  I quickly discovered that this was hard on my body week after week, and I was better off scaling back the mileage, giving my body a break.  This way I was rested when I decided to jump back into training.

When to Train for Your Next Marathon
Hopefully, you’ve had such a good race experience that you’re ready to sign up for another marathon!  The next common question is:  “How long should I wait?”  Some seasoned marathon runners can do another race as soon as six weeks later, but for the average person, that’s not recommended.  Marathon training (and the race itself) is very hard on your body, so a good goal is to aim for two marathons per year.  Some people can handle more without running into problems, and others may have to train even less frequently than this general rule. As long as you’re staying injury-free, feeling good and enjoying yourself, that’s what matters most. 

Congratulations for your amazing accomplishment!  If you take good care of your body after the race is over, you’ll be ready for your next fitness challenge in no time!

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Member Comments

  • I liked reading this
  • Not a marathon runner, but these tips are common sense! Listen to your body!!
  • I enjoyed reading this
    Thanks for sharing
  • definitely to old for a marathon
    Thanks for sharing
    This article is really nice but i guess the author should have guided us with more practical advise.
  • Much more to it than putting in the training, psyching and covering the miles - WOW !
  • 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!
  • Nice article- sadly enough I doubt very much I will EVER be in good enough shape to worry about this.
  • Nice article- sadly enough I doubt very much I will EVER be in good enough shape to worry about this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I'll be going to Hawaii three weeks after - perfect!
  • 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.

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, behavior change specialist and functional training specialist. She is also a RRCA-certified running coach. See all of Jen's articles.