Recovery after a marathon

As a runner, you probably know that marathons bring about serious muscular, cellular and immune system damage. Thus, marathon recovery time is as essential as training and the race themselves. We’re here to provide you with the most effective, all-around approach to help you get back on track quickly. So, let’s get down to it.

How does marathon damages body

Muscles, ligaments, tendons, and almost every system of the body is pressured when you’re running a marathon. Even if you achieved your goal or struggled to get to the line, your body experienced a huge physical challenge. You might not feel soreness afterward. Here are the physiological systems that were affected the most by a 26.2-mile marathon.

Skeletal Muscle

A scientific study examined volunteer human runners before and after the marathon. It found out the abnormal conditions (contracture knots, disrupted sarcolemma, etc.) Prevalent on day 1 and 3, inflammation, and fiber necrosis on day 7. All this significantly impairs muscle power and endurance. The study leaves no doubts that muscles are weakened and need a strong recovery after running a marathon and before scheduling full training again. The study also checked calf muscles during a long training period and outlined the need for time off, which applies to any considerable training volume.

Cellular damage

There’s a marker in our body that indicates the marathon’s impact on skeletal and myocardial tissue and augmented myoglobin level on the blood stream – creatinine kinase or CK. Its presence and production flag cellular damage. One study stated that CF damage had lasted more than a week after the race, whereas another one discovered the presence of myoglobin for 3-4 days after the marathon. These examinations prove that the body needs relaxation to completely recover from cellular damage provoked by the race. Unlike muscle soreness, these symptoms of tough training and racing are not often observable. That’s why marathon recovery training is a must even if you don’t feel like doing it.

Immune system

Other studies also show that the immune system is seriously undermined after running a 26.2-mile marathon. It increases the risks of catching cold and the flu. An affected immune system is one of the core reasons of overtraining collapse. Thus, the long-term goals might be jeopardized just because a runner can experience interrupted training for skipping a recommended rest period.

Importance of time off

As you can see, the entire body needs a solid rest. Some runners think taking up marathon recovery time is counter-intuitive and will decrease their fitness. In fact, there is a fitness drop. Guess how big it is? Just 30 seconds after a week of not running, according to the science of rest for marathoners. It’s definitely not a big loss, and the fitness level can be caught up very fast. It only takes three to four weeks to get back to intense training and high-level racing shape. Also, A-list runners like Desiree Davila and Meb Keflezighi always take time off after marathons and long training blocks.

Best way to recover from a marathon

We will dwell on nutrition, rehabilitation including heat therapy and massage, alternative training, and a running plan for the 3 weeks after a race. If you strive to recover at good speed and get back fast in the saddle, then you should follow these simple but effective recommendations. Consider it as an integral part of your marathon preparation process. Otherwise, getting back too soon and pushing too early is risky for your health.

Just after the race

Your recovery after running a marathon begins when you get to the finish line. As soon as you start the recovery as quickly and successfully, you’ll get back into your achieved fitness level. When running, your heart rate is heightened and lactic acid accumulates in the muscles. So, the first aim will be to get your heart drop at a slow pace, wash away lactic acid from the muscles, and prevent dehydration.

Use the heat blanket

Your body cools down fast even if you are over warmed when getting to the finish line. To prevent a rapid body temperature drop leading to wild tremor and even collapse, take a heat blanket or throw they give you. Or, put on clean, dry clothes. Make sure they are available in your race bag or your spouse or friend brought it for you. Smaller events may not provide space for blankets at the finish.

Continue to move

We get it, it may be tempting to sit down, chug a gallon of water and snack. But keep walking around the area a bit. Walk for 10-15 minutes so that your muscles do not knot up from accumulated lactic acid. Walking helps your body recoup and prevents soreness in the muscles. Besides, it also encourages oxygenated blood to them.

Drink water with electrolytes

Marathon recovery training is also about fixing internal processes in your body. Thus, drink water with electrolytes; drinks with electrolytes do a great job of helping the body metabolize energy from food. Avoid caffeine and alcohol since they dehydrate your body. Eat food containing electrolytes as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. We’ll dive deeper into food later!

Do not stretch too much

If choosing between stretching and walking, pick the latter. Also, avoid the foam rolling for at least a day after a marathon. Sharp muscle damage can occur immediately following the race.

Best food

Eat high glycemic, easily digestible foods within 30-60 minutes right after the marathon. Immediate marathon recovery time is more about taking in about 200-300 easily digestible calories to maintain blood sugar level, replenish muscle glycogen, and recoup muscle tissue. Avoid fats as they slow the digestion of other macros and stick to the 4:1 carb to protein ratio diet. A turkey sandwich, almond butter, carrots will do the job. If it’s cold, soup is a way out. Drink water to maintain hydration throughout the day. For food with electrolytes, consider the following: peanut butter, chocolate milk, healthy salty snacks to replenish sodium; olives, lettuce, tomatoes, rye, seaweed, and celery – for chloride; oranges, melons, raisins, bananas, or prunes – for potassium; soy milk or a regular one, cereal, yogurt – for calcium, and finally nuts, whole grains, dried beans, lentils – for magnesium.

Heat therapy

The heat has multiple recovery advantages for the body. It aids in muscle relaxation and brings about healing on a cellular level, enabling fluids to flow more freely through the body. Warm water boosts the temperature of muscle tissues, making it easier to stretch. If there are some particular areas affected, a heating pad will be a way out. It addresses back pain and neck pain and can cover small and large muscle groups, depending on the size. Usually, heating pads have a few heating options. For heat recovery after running a marathon, the sweet spot is 102-104 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes. The temperature is higher than the average body temperature, meaning you’ll receive the benefits of this recovery.

Treating injuries

A few hours after the race you might feel a lot of pains. They often peak at about 48-72 hours and can last up to 7 days. If the pain is unbearable and lasts more than a week, seek some medical help. This can be an injury. Keep the following in mind when dealing with injuries after running a marathon.

Track dehydration and hyponatremia

Dehydration occurs when you’re low on fluids and hyponatremia – when the concentration of sodium in the bloodstream is abnormally low. If none of these is your case, the medical staff can initiate an IV and will keep tabs on you until you urinate. In serious cases, you may be taken to the hospital. If you’re doing self-treatment, sip salty drinks rather than plain water and eat salty snacks. Slow marathoners, like walkers, are more vulnerable to hyponatremia.

Treat sprains and strains

For marathoners, the most common strains are in the hip flexor, calf, or hamstring. The pain feels immediately. If you have a Grade 1 or less severe strain, you can treat it on your own by taking marathon recovery time off and letting damaged tissue heal. If the joint is inflamed and reddened, it’s not just overexertion. It’s high time you had rest, compression, heat or ice therapy, and elevation. Probably you need medical care for a stress fracture or other heavy injury.

Bring a friend

You might feel like collapsing or gray-outs after the race. Do not drive home alone or be alone for the first 12 hours. You need a friend to help you with space blankets and dry clothes right after the marathon and take care of you if you’re injured and need medical help. Also, symptoms of stroke and heartbeat anomalies are serious. If your body salt level decreases during the race, it can cause heartbeat problems leading to a fatal case. So, you definitely need someone around.


If you’re going through marathon recovery time, massage will be a plus. Many events offer a quick massage. The sooner you can do it, the better your body will recoup. It will flush away any lactic acid that has accumulated during the marathon and decrease muscle tension. Putting all the physical efforts into race can damage the muscles. Sports massages bring relief by warming up the tissues through friction and improving blood circulation. After warming up, the muscles are more malleable and prone to give away tension, which accelerates the healing process.


During the marathon, you’re riding an adrenaline high, and afterward, every muscle is twitching. Your system cannot just shut down. All of this causes sleep deprivation. Don’t worry – it’s absolutely normal. Just go to bed. Try not to use the phone a few hours before sleep, listen to relaxation music, have another bath. By the way, a great idea is soaking in a bathtub with the caddy on it, having a glass of wine or milk nearby, and just enjoying your time off.

The week after the marathon

To get back on track the week after the marathon, you need to create your tapering plan in reverse and at a slow pace build the miles back up. Start small and short distances with a few strides to pick up speed. Within 4 to 6 weeks, you can come back to your training schedule. Here are some processes you might experience.

Post-race grouch

Marathoners might feel torn out and depressed the week after the marathon. It’s normal, be ready for that. The feelings go away as you recover. However, if post-marathon blues do not disappear after marathon recovery time, look for medical help. The chemical changes in your body and brain might have caused clinical depression, and a dangerous and life-threatening state can be prevented if identified in time.

Stiffness and inflammation

You might feel pain in muscles you didn’t know you had. As you got exhausted during the race, your posture and gait may have changed, leaning on muscles you don’t normally use much when running or walking. The pain can be prolonged, expect it to show up for the next two to four days. To relieve knots and hard muscles, a relaxing professional massage will be a way out. Gentle massage is enough to loosen up and prevent further damage to muscles that are recouping on their own. Pay attention to start walking or running at a gentle pace.

Weight gain

During your recovery after running a marathon, you can notice water retention. As a result, you may feel like putting on an extra two or four pounds. Do not hurry to start dieting. The weight might go away as your muscles repair. Also, do not start dieting or losing weight immediately after the marathon. Your organism needs carbs, protein, vitamins to restore affected muscles. If you have cravings, particularly junk food, eat it moderately. Your body might be signaling you what it is missing. If these are veggies, salmon, nuts, that’s fine. If you’re constantly craving chocolate and chips – follow “the rule of “moderation”.

Full marathon recovery phase

It takes about four to six weeks to get in the saddle after the race. You should finish your marathon recovery training before engaging in a new preparation process. Factor in how you’re currently feeling and ask for medical advice if your recovery from injuries seems tolagg. Also, consider the following before taking up your regular training.

Smooth back into exercising

If you walk for fitness, do not surpass an hour. Do it at a brisk pace and return to longer workouts after the second weekend after post-race. Marathoners should return smoothly to their regimen, step by step adding more time and miles. However, you can start running a day or two post-marathons. But think of doing a “reverse taper” where you regain your running patterns step-by-step by reversing the last two weeks of your marathon training regimen.

Modify your diet

As I already mentioned, your first calorie intake should be about 200-300 calories of simple digestive food. While recovering, your distance will be less than during marathon preparation. After the first recovery week, change your diet and calorie intake respectively as far as you build up pace and mileage.

Use apps to keep tabs on your food intake and adjust it if you put on weight due to little activity. But like a rule of thumb, eat a balanced diet rich in veggies, fruits, nuts, and other whole, fiber-rich foods.

Think of cross training

As enthusiastic as you may be to s run on an ordinary schedule, make some room for cross training. It should become a part of your marathon recovery training. It is recommended to start cross training 2-3 days after the race, as the immune system is currently oppressed. Like most workouts, running engages a particular set of muscle groups and ignores others. Use this time to exercise in the transverse plane, rotational motion, and to adjust imbalances.

Post run recovery tips

Finally, we’ve got to the point where we can share some life hacks, tips, and common recommendations. They can really make a difference in your recovery after running a marathon. Check them out.

  • Add an hour of night sleep for the week after the marathon. The study from the Linders University, Australia, shows that 9-10 hours of sleep is necessary for runners following an arduous race.
  • Do not pop some anti-inflammatory pills unless advised by the doctor. Inflammation is a natural response of our body to injury, thus taking pills can slow down the recovery process and even be rough on the stomach and kidney.
  • Do journaling if you experience sleep deprivation because of emotional excitement and thoughts coming again and again. Right down how the marathon went, describe the preparation, nutrition, mileage and pace, and marathon recovery time.
  • Do not binge eat or binge watch TV for the next 6 hours after the race. Instead, take a short walk around.
  • Follow a life hack from students: consume a moderate amount of caffeine (80-120ml) and take a 20 to 45 minutes’ nap. It allows your body to rest and wake up fresh as a daisy.

Marathon recovery time: what’s essential

When the best ultramarathoners in the world were asked to provide some recovery tips, most of them outlined the role of patience – patience in the recovery process and building the miles back up.  All of them pointed out at the marathon recovery time as an integral part of the successful return to a regular training schedule. From now on, you have all the knowledge to do it effectively!

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