Your marathon training plan comes to an end with the completion of the race. But once you cross the finish line, another challenge begins: Recovery from the marathon.
Recovery from a marathon is no easy feat. While it may be tempting to kick your feet up and relax in the days following your race, that’s not necessarily a good idea. Nor is it wise to jump right into training again, even if you feel good after your race.
Running 26.2 miles significantly taxes the body, both physically and mentally, and it takes some time to fully recover. However, the amount of time it takes the body to heal varies between runners and races. Some running experts say it’s best to take it easy – no hard workouts or races – for one day for each mile you’ve run, so 26 days. Several coaches say absolutely no running for the first week after a marathon, while other running experts suggest following a reverse taper in the first three weeks post-marathon.
Let your body guide your marathon recovery plan. Err on the side of caution and only run again once you feel ready.
Start with these guidelines:
Immediately after the race
- Keep walking. Move for at least 10-15 minutes after the race. It will (a.) help your heart rate come down gradually and (b.) flush lactic acid out of the muscles.
- Grab something to eat. Eat a snack containing protein and carbs within 30-60 minutes of finishing. This will replenish glycogen stores, stabilize blood sugar levels, and speed up the recovery process. Have a larger meal later, once you get your appetite back.
- Resist going in the post–race massage tent. While a massage at the finish line may sound like a dream come true, it can do more harm than good. It’s best to wait at least 24 hours after a race for a professional massage so your muscles have time to replenish fluids and recover. If your muscles feel really tight and you want to use the foam roller, wait at least six hours after you’ve crossed the finish line.
In the first 48 hours after the race
- Stretch. Stretching or some light yoga may feel good on sore muscles.
- Get a massage. A deep tissue or sports massage 24-48 hours after the marathon works best.
In the first week
- Rest is best. It may be tempting to jump right back into training again, but resist the urge. Those 26.2 miles significantly taxed your body, so make sure you take plenty of time to fully recover. Low-impact cross-training – such as swimming and walking – is best in the week following a marathon.
In the second week
- Return to running … slowly. Gradually start running again once you feel up to it. Start with short, slow runs – don’t run for more than 30-60 minutes at a time. If your body isn’t feeling up to par yet, don’t worry. Just stick with light cross-training.
In the third week
- Continue to listen to your body. At the two-week mark, many runners start feeling like themselves again. If this is the case, it’s OK to start upping your distance and speed. However, you may want to wait another week or so before resuming intense speed work or running another race.