After weeks of training, some runners mistakenly assume that all their efforts end as soon as they cross the finish line. However, half marathon recovery is a critical component of any successful training plan.
What you do to recover after a half marathon plays a key role in your health and success for the future. Everything, from what you do immediately post-race to how long you rest after a half marathon, can impact your future running.
Post half marathon recovery begins the minute you cross the finish line. There are many components to a successful recovery period, but one of the biggest elements of recovery is rest.
How long should you rest after running a half marathon?
Most runners want to know exactly how long they should take off from running after finishing a half marathon.
For some, the temptation to return to running arises after just a day or two off. Race day went well, their soreness is minimal, and the excitement from race day has them ready to get back for more.
For others, it’s tempting to let the recovery period drag on for weeks. Some runners find that they can’t walk after a half marathon and are eager to give their bodies a break.
Related: 13 Ways to Ease Muscle Soreness
Unfortunately, the question of how long you should rest after a half marathon varies from one runner to another. The answer ultimately depends on a variety of factors: your experience with the distance, the level of training you completed, how race day went, your overall finish time, and much more.
In general, all runners benefit from taking at least 1-2 days completely off during half marathon recovery. After these initial rest days, some runners are ready to get back out for a recovery run, while others might be ready only to begin some light cross training.
For complete beginners, a general rule is to take one day off from running for each mile that you ran. In the case of a half marathon, this would equate to 13 days of rest before returning to running.
Seasoned runners sometimes find that they are able to resume running much sooner, beginning with simple, easy efforts.
What is the fastest way to recover from a half marathon?
The excitement of finishing a half marathon usually leaves runners feeling motivated and eager to continue with the sport. However, that excitement can sometimes get the best of us if we find ourselves tempted to return to running too soon.
All runners recover differently after a half marathon, but the fastest way to recover is to prioritize rest and healing. Prioritizing activities such as refueling, stretching, foam rolling, rest, sleep and ice baths can help expedite the recovery process.
Following a recovery plan is a great way to encourage healthy recovery after a half marathon. Understanding the best things to do from the moment you cross the finish line until you are ready to start running again will set you up for success in the long term.
Taking the time and energy now to plan for your half marathon recovery will help you stay healthy and injury free, so you can get back to running before you know it.
Half Marathon Recovery Plan
Whether you are days away from your half marathon or looking to plan ahead as you begin training, this recovery plan will help you understand the best activities to complete in the days and weeks after your half marathon for optimal recovery.
Half marathon recovery begins in those first few moments after you cross the finish line. What you do immediately post-race plays a large roll in how your body will feel in the following days and weeks.
After you finish your half marathon, the first thing you should do is keep moving. Make a point to continue walking through the finisher’s chute for at least 5 minutes. Staying on your feet even longer, for 20-30 minutes, might sound less than ideal, but will provide a much-needed cool down.
As your activity gradually slows, you’ll want to begin refueling with some light snacks. Foods or beverages that contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein are a great option post-race. Snacks such as bananas, bagels, chocolate milk, sport’s drinks and protein bars are popular in the finisher chute.
Don’t forget to grab some water to rehydrate once you finish. The sooner you begin prioritizing rehydration, the better your body will feel in the days to come.
For the Rest of Race Day
Once you’ve given your legs some time to cool down and replenished a few calories, it’s time to begin some recovery activities.
While a quick snack might be enough to keep you from feeling sick immediately, you’ll likely be needing a bit more fairly quickly. Aim to have a full meal within 1-2 hours of finishing your race. Meals that are higher in carbohydrates are a great way to replenish lost calories. If possible, try to avoid alcohol for about 24 hours after a half marathon.
After an easy post-race walk, stretching is a great option to help loosen muscles and avoid experiencing muscle soreness in the days to come. Try to spend at least 30 seconds stretching each of the major muscles in your lower body: your feet, shins, calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and IT band.
>>This post-run stretching routine is a great option!
Once you’ve spent some time stretching, you’ll want to take the rest of the day easy by getting as much rest as possible. Spending time off your feet after a half marathon gives your muscles some much-needed time to recover.
An ice bath or Epsom salt bath are both great options to help enhance your recovery. Spending 10-15 minutes soaking in the tub encourages blood flow to promote a healthy recovery. You should avoid foam rolling this soon after a race as it is still a bit too harsh on your tired muscles.
1-2 Days After a Half Marathon
Most runners begin to experience soreness a day or two after finishing a half marathon. During this time period, it is important to continue to prioritize stretching. Try stretching when you first wake up and again at the end of the day.
As your muscles begin to recover, completing some simple foam rolling exercises might be of benefit if you find any particularly sore or tight spots.
Rest is especially critical during this portion of your half marathon recovery plan, and most runners benefit from taking these first few days completely off from running.
If you are feeling up to it, an easy walk or some recovery yoga might be a great way to help loosen things up.
3-7 Days After a Half Marathon
This period of recovery after a half marathon is usually when the transition to a more active recovery begins. Most runners find that some light cross training activities are beneficial for them during this time. Activities such as walking and yoga can be very helpful to maintain a similar routine without causing too much stress on the body.
Throughout the first week after your half marathon, you’ll want to continue to stretch on a regular basis. Foam rolling may still be helpful if you have any particularly tight or painful areas.
The key to this time period of half marathon recovery is taking things easy and completing only light activities if you wish. For complete beginners, this time period will likely be filled with a combination of walking and resting, but nothing more. More seasoned runners may be able to return to running during this time with short, easy runs only.
1-2 Weeks After a Half Marathon
Once the soreness has faded from the initial period of half marathon recovery, you’ll still need pay special attention to your body. Follow its signals as you prepare to return to a more normal activity level. During this time period, most runners are ready to resume running in some capacity.
Beginner runners will likely be ready to return for short, easy runs about 1.5-2 weeks after their half marathon. Seasoned runners will likely be returning to a more normal training load during the week, with the absence of any tough workouts or long runs.
Easing back in to running after recovering from a half marathon is key. Take things slow and easy, and if you notice any lingering pain or soreness – back off. A gradual mileage increase is best before resuming any sort of speed workouts.
By about 2 weeks after a half marathon, most runner find that they have fully recovered and are ready to get back to training. However, remember that every runner is different and the key to a healthy, successful half marathon recovery is always listening to your body.
Sample Half Marathon Recovery Plan
This sample plan provides a guideline to use when planning for your own recovery after a half marathon. Modify this plan as needed, and remember that not only will each runner be different – but each race will as well.
- HALF MARATHON: Race day! 20 minute cool down walk + stretching and ice bath
- RECOVERY DAY 1: Rest + stretching and foam rolling
- RECOVERY DAY 2: Rest + stretching and foam rolling
- RECOVERY DAY 3: 10 minute walk + stretching and foam rolling
- RECOVERY DAY 4: 10 minute yoga + stretching and foam rolling
- RECOVERY DAY 5: 20 minute walk + stretching and foam rolling
- RECOVERY DAY 6: 20 minute yoga + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 7: 30 minute walk + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 8: 20 minute easy run + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 9: 30 minute walk + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 10: 25 minute easy run + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 11: 30 minute yoga + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 12: 30 minute easy run + stretching
- RECOVERY DAY 13: 30 minute walk + stretching
Regardless of how your race unfolded, taking the time to fully recover after a half marathon is key to continuing the sport in the future. The excitement of race day is hard to top, but don’t let all the motivation you feel after finishing trick you into skipping the recovery period.
Recovery after a half marathon, or any distance race, is a key component of training. Be sure to plan your recovery in advance, include it in your training plan, and use the time to reflect and adjust for the future.