Ask the Coach: 6 Tips for Marathon Recovery

Fact: Marathons are hard on the body. No matter your pace, you have been pounding for 26.2 miles, not to mention the months of hard training involved in preparation for the marathon. Your body needs a rest. Here are some tips to maximize marathon recovery.

Marathon Recovery

It can be difficult for a dedicated runner to take a few days off after a marathon. Whether it is because of a fear of losing fitness, wanting to capitalize on a great race and fitness level, or a need to avenge a poor performance, runners frequently skimp on their recovery period, which can lead to injury and future poor performance.

There are differing opinions on post-marathon rest and how long it takes to fully recover. Some experts suggest one day rest for every mile of the marathon, meaning no hard running or racing for 26 days. Others say that is too much, and that two or three weeks is enough for most runners to recover. One suggestions is to approach recovery like a reverse taper. As you reduced mileage during the last three weeks before the marathon, now you can gradually add the mileage and intensity back into your training program.

One thing every expert does agree on is that your body needs time to recover after a marathon. Here are some tips that can help you give your body the time to rest, refuel, and recover.

Recovery starts immediately after you cross the finish line.

The moment you finish your marathon, you will be in recovery mode. Much of this comes naturally: you’re thirsty so you drink; you’re hungry so you eat. Take advantage of the water and food offered at the finish line. It will probably be something high in carbohydrates, like bagels or bananas, which will serve your immediate needs. For some it can be difficult to eat right after a marathon. Grab some of the available food and try to eat as soon as you can. A recovery drink, like Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator provides the proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates, plus other nutrients to help with recovery.

Depending on the weather, take steps to stay warm or cool down as soon as you finish the race. Most marathons provide Mylar blankets when the weather is cold, and at the recent Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego finishers were handed iced towels because the weather was quite warm. In either case, try to get to your own clothes and change into something dry as soon as possible.

As soon as you can, get completely off your feet. Sit down, elevate your feet, relax, and think about the amazing thing that you just accomplished.

Take a few days completely off.

Continue your recovery by taking two or three days completely off exercising. No cross training, only light walking, and no running. During that time take care of any residual soreness or injuries with ice, gentle stretching, and (after the first day) heat. Many runners find the use of compression sock or sleeves (like PRO Compression) to be helpful. They reportedly increase blood flow and lymph removal, which can speed recovery.

Eat for recovery.

After a long hard effort like a marathon, your body needs to rebuild muscle and tissue that has broken down during the race. Make sure that your diet has a lot of carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, and plenty of protein. The protein will help rebuild your muscle, while the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables will help rebuild your immune system, something else that is compromised during a marathon run.

Get a massage.

A therapeutic massage improves blood circulation and increases the effectiveness of the circulatory system, which is responsible for oxygen transfer, nutrient delivery, and waste removal at a cellular level.  Improved recovery comes with the faster, more efficient operation of these processes. Massage can also decrease soreness and improve the healing of connective tissue.  Find a therapist that specializes in sports massage.

Take it easy for two weeks.

After the first few days, gradually return to running, starting with a few miles about three or four days out from the marathon. If things still hurt, take another day or two off. Take a few days off each of the two weeks, slowly increasing the mileage. Keep the intensity low during this time. Your runs should be at an easy, conversational pace.

Add a little speed in week three.

If everything feels good, you can add a little more intensity in week three, while gradually increasing your mileage. By the end of the week, you should be fairly well recovered and, depending on your race plans, be ready to resume training.

These tips will help you to return to training at a level that will lead to maximum results for your next race. Just remember: Recovery is an essential part of your training program, and should be treated as such.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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  1. says

    SO many great tips! I’m really interested in trying Vega’s Recovery Accelerator. I usually write off things like that but I’ve heard really good things about it from people who have the same feelings.

    Hope you are recovering well from your race!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…High Five FridayMy Profile

  2. says

    Definitely! I’ve learned this the hard way and now take recovery very seriously. It’s so crucial to recover well to come back healthy and even stronger!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…Why I runMy Profile

  3. says

    Coming from a girl who has a hard time resting, this was a PERFECT post. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to following you blog, I found it through Angela this morning!

  4. Kammie @ Sensual Appeal says

    Great tips! Especially taking a few days off. I’m a big proponent of taking a week or two (or more) off 😉 Massages feels so good, especially after hard runs!
    Kammie @ Sensual Appeal recently posted…Giveaway: Now this is pudding made rightMy Profile

  5. says

    As an older runner, I pay close attention to the recovery period after any race longer than a 10k. I ran a really tough half marathon (super hilly, hot and humid) over the weekend and plan to have very low key days until Friday when I rejoin my running group. That practice will be an easy one for me as the coach is very aware how age makes recovery more difficult. I sound like a cripple, but at 60 years young, I do not want any injuries!
    Pam recently posted…The time when I almost had a DNF!My Profile

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    Heart Problems In Women Over 60 recently posted…Heart Problems In Women Over 60My Profile

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