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Post Marathon Recovery: 13 Expert Tips For A Fast Recuperation

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Whether it’s your first time completing a marathon or you have collected enough marathon finisher’s medals to embellish an entire wall, your body always requires a period of recovery after crossing the finish line.

In reality, the recovery period for the marathon is considered by certain running coaches as the 27th mile of the race, signifying its importance as an essential aspect of the marathon. This indicates that the race is not truly complete until complete recovery is achieved.

In this guide, we will explore the duration of recovery from a marathon and the most effective methods for recovering. We will also provide expert tips for post marathon recovery.

Why is recovery from a marathon so important

One reason why the marathon is appealing is because the distance of 26.2 miles can be overcome, but it is also extremely difficult. Completing a marathon is an admirable accomplishment as it requires both physical and mental strength, in addition to a continuous and committed training regimen.

However, due to these reasons, participating in a marathon can put a strain on the body, and prematurely resuming training can elevate the likelihood of experiencing overuse injuries and overtraining.

How long to wait to run after a marathon

There is no straightforward answer to how long runners should wait to run after completing a marathon, as it varies for each individual runner and may even differ for every race that the runner participates in.

Factors that can impact the duration of post-marathon recovery and the time it takes to resume running after completing the race include: the level of effort or intensity exerted during the race, age, gender, fitness level, overall health, nutritional status, hydration approaches, and recovery plan.

For two different races, the same runner may also have a varying timeline for post marathon recovery.

After completing one marathon, a runner might notice that their body feels relatively normal and prepared for another run after three or four days. However, recovery after a different marathon usually takes approximately a week or ten days.

A post marathon recovery timeline can be influenced by several factors such as the weather, course terrain, hydration status, fueling strategy before, during, and after the race, effort level, and recovery strategy.

Regardless of differences and individual needs, the majority of running coaches advise taking a break from running for a minimum of 3-7 days after completing a marathon in order to allow the body to recover before introducing further training. Nevertheless, it is not advised to take only a 3-day break as most runners should abstain from running for an entire week following a marathon.

Expert tips for fast post marathon recovery

1. Start recovery right away

The entire arc of your post marathon recovery is impacted by what actions you take immediately after crossing the finish line, as well as what actions you refrain from doing.

Approach the post marathon recovery period with the understanding that it is an essential and equally significant part of the overall race experience. As you have shown commitment and passion throughout your training and the race itself, it is crucial to approach the recovery phase with the same level of determination and devotion.

2. Keep moving at the finish 

Instead of immediately collapsing in exhaustion and exhilaration at the end of a marathon, it is beneficial to walk for at least 10-15 minutes. This post-race walk aids in eliminating metabolic byproducts from the legs and delivers fresh oxygen and nutrients to the fatigued muscles. This process promotes healing and diminishes the likelihood of experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

3. Don’t stretch

Stretching immediately after reaching the finish line may initially appear beneficial, but it can actually worsen muscle damage after a marathon. Conversely, engaging in stretching the day after, and subsequent days, can aid in expediting marathon recovery, as long as a proper warm-up is conducted and gentle stretching is practiced.

4. Refuel as soon as possible

In terms of steps to follow, an important tip from experts for quick post marathon recovery is to refuel immediately after the race. It is essential to consume carbohydrates and proteins, ideally at a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 in terms of grams of carbohydrates to protein.

In order to support depleted muscles, restore glycogen stores, and initiate the repair process for muscle damage caused during the race, refueling is essential. In case solid foods are difficult to digest, you can begin with alternatives like sports drinks, protein shakes, chocolate milk, or even milkshakes.

5. Take a break from running

After participating in a marathon, certain runners may experience extreme exhaustion and may not have any inclination to resume their running routine for a while, almost feeling as if they have been physically struck by a truck. On the other hand, some runners are creatures of habit and eagerly anticipate returning to their running regimen. Regardless, numerous experts recommend taking a rest period of five to seven days after the race.

“A highly trained marathon runner may not need to take such a measured approach—even though it never hurts to be extra cautious,” Dr. Hanke says. “But the average recreational runner should avoid high-impact and weight-bearing activities for about a week.” 

According to Dr. Gardner, swimming is recommended as a low-impact option, as it involves floating and contracting muscles to facilitate blood circulation. Another beneficial activity is biking.

6. Wait on the massage

According to Dr. Gardner, it is recommended to wait a few days after the marathon before getting a sports massage, as nothing surpasses its effectiveness in relieving tired muscles.

“You aim to achieve maximum benefit without causing further muscle damage,” she states.

After the race, certain marathon events might provide physical therapists who offer gentle massages or stretching exercises, which can have some advantages.

7. Don’t just sit on the couch

Although it’s important to rest and let your body recover, you should avoid spending consecutive days simply lounging on the couch.

According to Dr. Hanke, it is not advisable to do nothing after a marathon. He suggests taking a break but also engaging in low-impact cross-training activities such as using an elliptical machine, biking, swimming, stretching, or practicing yoga. The goal is to find an activity that is gentle on the joints, as running puts significant strain on the body due to the entire body weight being supported by the legs.

8. Reintroduce running gradually

According to Dr. Gardner, when you resume running after a break of five to seven days, it is advisable to begin with three runs that are both easy and short. If these initial runs are successful, the following three runs can be slightly more intense.

“[…] The purpose of this is to encourage movement in your joints. Later during the week, you can evaluate and assess your physical state. There is no pre-established plan to follow. If the marathon has had a significant impact on your body, it is important to give it careful consideration and avoid overexertion,” she advises.

9. Don’t take up something new

According to Samantha Smith, MD, a primary care and sports medicine specialist at Yale Medicine, it is not advisable to try out a completely new workout routine during the weeks following a marathon.

She says that even if you believe you have reached your highest level of fitness, it does not guarantee the same level of fitness in a different activity. You should gradually develop your stamina for any new exercise, similar to how you did with the marathon training.

10. Return to strength training carefully

According to Dr. Gardner, if you have a successful experience with gentle workouts during the first week or two after your race, you can think about including some weight lifting in your routine. However, it is important to keep the weights light and focus on stationary lifts.

According to her, this is regarding engaging the muscles without impact and intense cardiovascular exercise.

11. Listen to your body

According to doctors, if you can persevere through the pain of running a marathon of 26.2 miles, it is probable that you can handle a challenging workout. Nevertheless, it is crucial to pay attention to your body and make modifications during the period following the marathon.

According to Dr. Gardner, if you engage in a workout following the race and find that it takes you longer than usual to recover, it indicates that your body is not prepared, and it is necessary for you to reduce your efforts. Dr. Gardner advises giving yourself permission to take a break during this time.

Dr. Hanke concurs that the mindset of an athlete is frequently characterized by the belief that one must endure pain in order to achieve progress. Consequently, it can sometimes pose a challenge to discern what measures are required for one’s body to recuperate. “Running a distance of 26 miles may not be suitable for most individuals,” she expounds. “Hence, it is crucial to evaluate the areas of discomfort and remain attentive to any previously overlooked discomfort experienced during training.”

12. Try contrast baths

By alternating between soaking in the tub with ice baths and warm baths, it is possible to expedite the recovery process after a marathon. Ice baths have the potential to diminish the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), whereas warm soaks aid in compression and enhance blood circulation.

13. Remember to sleep

According to doctors, you can utilize the fact that you don’t have to wake up early or stay up late for marathon training sessions by taking advantage of this time to get some extra sleep.

Dr. Gardner emphasizes the importance of incorporating sleep as a vital tool for recovery. During deep sleep, growth hormones are released, promoting muscle growth and repair. Sleep should not be considered a luxury, but rather a fundamental component in supporting your workouts and aiding in recovery.

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