No matter how well you have trained or how strong you may feel on race day, recovering from distance races takes quite a bit of time. Failing to properly recover may lead you to injury, burnout and even illness. While listening to our bodies is always most important, there are a few strategies we can use to speed up the process and recover quickly from a marathon or half marathon.
It’s taken me five marathons to finally pick up on an important fact: our bodies recover differently in different circumstances.
That’s kind of obvious, right?
But it still has taken me so long to truly understand. Many runners assume that since they’ve already finished a half marathon or marathon, recovering from this next one will be much easier. But that isn’t necessarily true.
When I think back to the NYC Marathon last year, my 5th marathon, I remember how my body felt significantly different the next morning than it had after previous races. When I take into account all of its hills, the late start, rainy weather, my faster-than-usual pace, the 1.5 mile long finisher chute, and combination of 10 miles of walking around town before the race, I should have fully expected my recovery to take longer than usual.
But I didn’t.
While we can expect our own body to recover differently after each race, there are still a few strategies we can use to aid our recovery in every situation. Whether you’re recovering from a marathon or half marathon, your body is going to need time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner runner or seasoned pro – skipping the recovery period is a terrible mistake.
Use the time you spend recovering after your race to listen to your body. Pay attention to its cues. When we are really attentive, we find that our bodies are great at telling us whether or not we’re fully recovered. Be patient and get plenty of rest.
And in the mean time, there are 10 things you can be doing to help recover quickly from that marathon (or half marathon).
How to Recover Quickly from a Marathon (or Half Marathon)
Drink your calories (and electrolytes).
Try to avoid alcohol during this time (although some might say that numbs the pain too, ha) and focus on drinking sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade to help you refuel fast. These types of drinks contain plenty of electrolytes that your body has lost during your race. You’ll need more liquids than usual for the few days after the race, and this method helps pump your body with the fluids and sugars it needs to rebuild torn muscle fibers.
Give yourself a light massage.
Now is not the time to go crazy on your muscles, but lightly rubbing the tight spots on your legs will help break up the lactic acid that has built up and hopefully start to loosen those muscles. Finding a tennis ball or golf ball to lightly rub against any tight spots can help break up those adhesions and bring blood flow to the area.
Do some gentle stretches.
As much as possible, try and stretch out your legs. Planting yourself on the couch and not moving for 2 days will only work against you. Don’t push yourself with any intense stretching, but some gentle movements will help get the blood flowing and loosen any tight muscles.
Drink more water than you ever thought possible.
Water truly helps with everything – especially recovery. Even if you hydrated like a champ throughout the race and afterwards, the next morning is crucial. Drink lots of water to replenish anything you lost and keep things circulating throughout your body. You will likely be dehydrated after finishing a marathon or half marathon, so drink up!
Take Ibuprofen (or something similar).
I’m usually not a fan of pain killers, but Ibuprofen can really help avoid swelling in these situation. Painkillers like Advil or Ibuprofen help reduce inflammation, relieve pressure in any of your joints and making it a little less painful to walk.
Walk slowly around the room.
Similar to stretching, walking will help loosen those muscles and keep them from contracting and tightening up. This is exactly the opposite of what you’ll want to do after a marathon, but forcing yourself to walk slowly for short distances will help keep the blood flowing in your tired legs.
Practice bending your knees and hips.
Make sure to lubricate all of your joints after you’ve been sitting a while. Waking up the morning after a distance race usually involves quite a bit of challenges to get moving. Don’t be afraid to move your legs around with your hands if they are too sore to lift on their own. Spending just a few minutes lubricating those joints will help making standing up and getting moving easier.
Make sure to eat first thing – even if you’re not hungry.
Most runners find that they are not very hungry after running extreme distances. Sleeping and resting sound much more appealing than sitting down for a big meal, but refueling is one of the most critical parts of recovery. Rather than trying to eat a huge meal to replenish your lost energy, try to have small snacks periodically throughout the day.
Related: 10 Great Healthy Snacks for Runners
Take a warm shower.
The warm water really helps muscles relax and loosen, and the heat will likely feel like a godsend as you enter the recovery phase.
Avoid sitting for long periods of time.
All anyone wants to do after a distance race is sit down and not get back up. However, letting yourself sit down immediately after finishing will only prolong your recovery period. This doesn’t mean you need to walk around for the rest of the day – just make sure to take periodic walk breaks every 15-30 minutes while you’re relaxing to ensure that your muscles don’t lock up.
It’s often hard to remember that the race is not over as soon as we cross the finish line. On the contrary, what we do immediately after the race and the next morning are critical for our recovery. Expecting your body to be able to jump right back in to your usual fitness routine is unrealistic. Yet on the other hand, expecting to not do anything at all and magically recover is just as silly.
Take the extra time you have after finishing your race and dedicate it to recovery. Once the immediate soreness has faded, spend some time stretching, foam rolling and completing gentle activities like yoga and walking. You’ll find yourself ready to hit the roads feeling fresh in no time.