Becoming a Recovery Pro!

What to Do after a Half or Full Marathon – 5 Important Tips


You made it the 13.1 or 26.2 miles that you have been training for the last 3-4 months. You are probably feeling a combination of excitement in your accomplishment, relief that it is over, and complete exhaustion. Now it’s time to recover. Having a good recovery plan is going to affect how you feel in the days and weeks to come. If you are someone who is signed up for another race in the coming weeks or months, recovery is definitely something that you can’t afford to overlook as it might be the difference between feeling good for your next race or struggling through an overuse injury.

Keep in mind that recovery is different for everyone and depends on many variables including training volume and intensity, race pace, perceived effort, running route (was it hilly, a trail run, road race?), temperature, and what nutrition and hydration strategies you used during the race. As you try some of the tips below, make sure to listen to your body and add or subtract strategies based on how you are feeling. The more running and racing you do, the more you will be able to dial in what recovery strategies work best for you.

after marathon recovery tips

0-1 Hours Post Race

After you cross the finish line you will be tempted to lie or sit down and, let’s be honest, you deserve a good rest break!

But trust me when I tell you, once you decide to get up after 5-10 minutes of sitting you will regret doing it in the first place. Sitting or lying down right after a run causes your muscles to tighten up and allows the lactic acid to pool in your muscles, leaving you with some stiff and sore muscles and joints that make walking to the car a chore. Instead, stay on your feet and walk for the next 10-15 minutes to allow your heart rate to slowly come back down and to help flush the lactic acid out of your muscles. While you are walking, grab water and a snack that will help your body rehydrate, replenish electrolytes and provide the carbohydrates and protein that it needs to recover. Keep the snack small and aim for easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins such as bananas, oranges, pretzels, peanut butter, granola bars etc. If you are someone who feels famished after a long run, make sure to eat and drink slowly to avoid stomach cramps. If you don’t have any appetite at all, still try to get some sort of nutrition to help your body as it starts the recovery process.

TL/TR – watch a short video instead.

after marathon recovery tips

1-2 Hours Post Race

Now that you are home or back to the hotel it’s time to get cleaned up. First thing you will want to do is take a well-deserved shower (probably the best feeling after a race!). Using cold water during your shower can help decrease inflammation in your sore muscles or you can go a little more extreme and take an ice bath to really ramp up the recovery. If that’s not your thing, consider wearing compression socks or tights for the remainder of the day to have a similar effect. Another great way to flush out some of the inflammation and stretch out your legs is to lie with your legs up a wall for 5-10 minutes.

after marathon recovery tips

Remainder of Race Day

About 2-6 hours after your race is a great time to go through a good stretching and foam rolling routine. Take your time with all of the stretches and make sure to hit all major muscle groups including your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip flexors, and low back. After a few hours, your appetite should be back and this is a great time to refuel with a celebratory meal that is high in carbohydrates and proteins and includes some fruits and vegetables to replenish vitamins and minerals in your body that will help with the recovery process.

after marathon recovery tips

Week 1 Post Race

The week after a race is a crucial time to give your body the rest and support that it needs to fully recover. A massage can be very helpful to loosen up sore and stiff muscles, but avoid it within the first 24 hours of a race. It is important to remain active, but don’t overdo it. Give yourself a break from running for the first week and opt for lighter exercise that is lower impact and uses different muscle groups such as cycling, swimming, yoga, and walking. Keep effort light to moderate and aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise per day. Even if you have another race in the upcoming weeks, take this week off of running. Giving your body time to recover is going to be key to having another good race. By pushing through the recovery phase you risk causing more inflammation, depleting your fuel stores, and increasing your risk for an overuse injury. Don’t worry, a week off will not cause your body to lose the training that you have built up.

after marathon recovery tips

Week 2-4 Post Race

After your week off from running you can gradually get back to your usual running mileage, but keep the pace easy for that first week back into, then gradually pick up the pace. Listen to your body during your runs. It will tell you if you are doing too much too soon.

Running a half or full marathon is the hard part, but it’s always a good idea to have a post-race plan so that you can recover like a pro!

If you have any questions feel free to reach out to the professionals at Apex Physical Therapy!

We would love to be a part of your healthcare team.

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