If you recently ran a marathon, congratulations! Training for and running 26.2 miles is a huge physical and mental endeavor, and taking time to recover from a marathon is essential. In the days and weeks following the race, keep in mind you’ve pushed your body beyond its limits. Below are guidelines to follow post-race so you can recover well and return to running safely.
Frequently Asked Questions – How to Recover from a Marathon:
How long does it take to fully recover from a marathon?
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. The general rule of thumb is to recover one day per mile. For instance, because a marathon is 26.2 miles, take a month to prioritize recovery.
Spend the first 1-2 weeks completely off running. This time should be spent resting and possibly easing into light cross training, like biking, swimming, and elliptical.
Following 1-2 weeks of no running comes a reverse taper, starting with only 20-30 minutes of easy effort running. Continue to hold off on workouts and faster running.
If you are experiencing any pain after your race, reach out to your doctor or other qualified health provider immediately.
What happens to your body during the 48 hours after a marathon?
A lot goes on within our body during marathon training, the race itself, and after crossing the finish line. Immediately following the marathon, we experience:
You might also feel the post marathon blues.
What does your body need after a marathon?
After completing a marathon, your body immediately goes into recovery mode. Get a jumpstart on your recovery by:
- Eating carbs, protein, and drinking fluids. Carbohydrates will replace depleted glycogen, protein helps repair damaged muscles, and fluids, such as water and electrolytes, help you rehydrate and replenish electrolytes. (Hold off on the alcohol until you are well hydrated!).
- Walking for at least 10 minutes to increase blood flow and prevent cramping. This can be a slow and easy walk!
- Changing out of wet clothes. As soon as you can, shower and change into dry, warm clothing. We want to be mindful of our core body temperature, which can drop quickly if we’re sitting around in wet, sweaty clothes.
- Resting. Lots of sleep and time off running!
How to Recover from a Marathon:
Eat to Your Appetite
It’s not uncommon to be ravenous the days following a marathon. If you’re hungry, give your body what it’s asking for! Make sure to prioritize protein to rebuild damaged muscles and eat until you’re satisfied. Additionally, stay on top of hydration.
The cookbook Rise and Run is full of recipes that are packed with nutrients, aid with recovery, and help you refuel after running.
Take time off running
Take at least 1-2 weeks completely off of running. Light, leisurely walks, yoga, and easy cross-training during this period are fine as long as you are not experiencing any pain. Keep in mind, even when your body is no longer sore, know that you are still recovering internally.
Before jumping right back into easy running, try some light cross training. For instance, easy swimming, biking, light elliptical sessions, and other low-impact activities are great ways to get yourself moving again and keep the risk for injury low.
Jumping back into running too soon cause increase the risk for injury, illness, overtraining, and burnout.
If you took an extended period of time off of running after your race and want to slowly get back into it, be sure to read How to Start Running Again after Significant Time Off so you can safely and slowly return to running.
Muscle repair occurs when you sleep, so get as much sleep as you can, including naps. If you’re typically an early morning runner, take this time to sleep in when you might normally be exercising.
And remember, the rest period after a marathon is just as much mental as it is physical. Marathon training is very demanding mentally, so take this time to not push yourself to workout multiple times a week and give yourself permission to rest.
Listen to your body
Every runner is going to feel different in the weeks following a marathon. And just like you listen to your body and efforts during the training and race, listening to your body during the recovery period is crucial as well.
If, after two weeks, you want to slowly return to running, keep these runs very short and easy, like a reverse taper. Run at the pace your body is telling you is “very easy” (think 1-3 effort on a scale of 1-10), and if you experience any pain, stop running and seek medical advice immediately.
Some recovery tools that may aid in marathon recovery include:
- Foam Roller – Foam rolling increases blood flow and releases tightness.
- Sportneer Massage Gun – This massage gun targets deep tissues to relieve muscle soreness and tension.
- Epsom Salt – Epsom salt baths help increase blood flow.
Focus on other things that bring you joy
Running is a large part of many of our lives – and it’s not everything. Is there a project around your home you’ve wanted to tackle but haven’t found time for? What about reading a book that’s been sitting on your bookshelf? Take advantage of the time away from running to attack your to-do list and things you may not have time for while training.
Recap of How to Recover From a Marathon:
- Eat to your appetite
- Take time off running
- Listen to your body
- Focus on other things that bring you joy
Interested in Run Coaching?
What’s something you do to help yourself recover after running a marathon?
Disclaimer: The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition. The content provided is generalized nutrition guidance and please reach out to your registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.