Marathon Recovery 101

By Rick Morris

You spent countless hours running endless miles in preparing for your marathon. You carefully planned and successfully carried out your marathon training plan. You crossed the finish line and celebrated your triumphant race. Your work is done – or is it? Now comes marathon recovery.

Many marathon runners put massive amounts of time and effort into marathon planning and racing only to forget one of the most critical parts of marathon running; marathon recovery. Your body, mind and muscles have been under a lot of stress during your marathon training and your actual race. Now that their job is complete you need to baby them just a bit to make sure they regain the health and strength necessary to help you meet your next running goal.

Here are the basics of marathon recovery. Follow a schedule similar to this one to insure your body and mind get the recovery they need to get you back to full speed running.

Post Race Recovery

  • Congratulations – you finished! You feel exhilarated but just a bit trashed. You’re sweaty, tired, hungry, slightly dehydrated and your muscles are screaming for carbohydrates. You would probably like to find the nearest patch of soft grass and lie down for a nap but first you should take care of the following important business.
  • Get Warm and Dry – You’ve been running for over 26 miles. Your body has been generating a lot of heat, but now that you’ve quit running you may become chilled. Take advantage of the Mylar warm up blankets you probably received at the finish line. Wrap yourself up to stay warm and avoid getting chilled. It will help with your recovery. If you don’t receive a blanket try to find some warm and dry clothes to put on.
  • Chow Down – your muscles are almost completely out of carbs. Find the nearest source of carbohydrates. Preferably simple carbs like muffins or bananas. Suck a couple of them down. Your muscles will soak up those carbs like a sponge and you will feel a quick and rejuvenating flood of energy.
  • Drink Up – Now wash those carbs down with a bottle of sports drink or chocolate milk. Your body needs the fluids, nutrition and electrolytes in those beverages.
  • Keep Moving – Yep, I know you really want to lie down, but avoid that temptation for a while longer. Keep moving so your muscles have a chance to cool down properly. It will help you avoid some of that post race stiffness and pain.
  • Quick Assessment – Take a quick assessment of the condition of your body. You will always have a bit of soreness after a marathon, but check for any abnormal or excessive pain. If you have any blisters, sprains or strains apply some initial first aid. Seek help for any serious problems.

The First Hours

  • After you get home or back to your hotel, I would suggest getting in some quality nutrition right away. Your body is still in major recovery mode and you need to supply it with the high quality carbohydrates, protein and fats that it is screaming for. Eat a nice, balanced meal of mostly complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats. At this meal you should try to avoid the simple carbs.
  • After your meal it’s time for some serious sack time. Lie down, put your feet up and take a rejuvenating nap before you head out for your post race victory celebration.
  • Before you go to bed for the evening consider taking an ice bath. I know that doesn’t sound like the most appealing step, you would probably rather take a nice soak in the hot tub, but the cold of the ice bath will help decrease inflammation and help speed up your recovery.

The Day After

  • When you crawl out of bed the next morning your will probably be stiff and sore. The last thing you feel like doing is going for a run. Don’t give in. Head out the door for a very easy one or two mile jog. Don’t run at a hard or even moderate pace. Keep your pace very easy. The low intensity activity will help your muscles recover and you will decrease the duration of your muscle pain and stiffness. To sore and tired to run? That’s OK – go for a walk instead.
  • Continue to eat a diet that is high in complex carbs, lean proteins and essential fatty acids. Light stretching and massage will assist with recovery and muscle stiffness.

The First Week

During your first week of recovery you should avoid any high intensity running or other forms of exercise. Get in some activity every day, but keep your intensity level low and your distance to no more than two to three miles. Some easy cross training such as low intensity biking or swimming will also help with your recovery. Don’t force yourself to do any activity at this time. You mind needs rest as much as your body. If you don’t feel like running then don’t.

Week Two Recovery

During your second week of recovery you can very gradually increase your mileage to as much as 4 to 6 miles, but keep your intensity level low and only run as far as you feel comfortable.  Listen to your mind and body this week. If you are not motivated to run or are really struggling it is better to take more time off.


After your second week of recovery you should be fine to very gradually begin to ease back into your normal training routine. Gradually increase both the intensity and duration of your training runs. Begin strength training one time per week and slowly add to that until you are strength training three times per week. When running becomes fun again you will know you are completely recovered and ready to begin your next training cycle.