How to recover from running a marathon

How to recover from running a marathon

Maybe you just finished the Amsterdam Marathon, or you are planning to run one in the near future. Running a marathon is something a lot of runners are dying to stripe of their bucket list. But what happens after you crossed the finish line, the shiny medal is hanging around your neck, and your training days are over? Have you ever thought about your post-marathon recovery? Like many runners, you’ve probably given absolutely no thought to how to recover from your marathon. But if you want to recover in good speed, and get back out there – either to train for another race or just stop feeling like a bus hit you – then you should.

Running a marathon has a huge effect on your body. No matter in what state you crossed that finish line, one thing is certain: you will end up with muscle soreness, fatigue, and stiff joints. Not to mention the (hormonal) disturbance to which the body is exposed after completing the whole 42,195 meters. You might also need some mental recovery time after your marathon experience. Some runners have difficulties bringing back the fun in running and finding motivation for a new goal after completing their ultimate race. They feel like they can never top that feeling of euphoria ever again. And that’s not all, even your resistance will decrease, so cold is lurking if you don’t take your recovery seriously. This may all sound frightening, but there is absolutely no need to get discouraged. Just plan your recovery using these great tips from olympic marathoner Gerard Nijboer.

Marathon recovery: right after the finish

Congratulations, you just finished a marathon! The best thing you can do is keep moving, no matter how slow, and let your heart rate get back to normal. Get into some dry clothes and hydrate yourself before celebrating with your friends. As soon as you calmed down and feel like your stomach is ready, you will need to eat something small. This could include a protein bar or fruit like an apple or bananas. Various studies show that you recover faster if you replenish your proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals shortly after a marathon. Save eating a big meal for later in the day when your appetite returns, and you can enjoy that celebration. Something that is always a good idea, but feels extra nice post-marathon is, a cold day, soaking in a hot bath or, on a hot sweaty day, taking a cold shower.

And what about that well-deserved cold beer that you crave so much after your big accomplishment? Although it sounds very tempting to reward yourself with a treat like beer, it’s best to postpone drinking alcohol. After a marathon, your sensitivity to alcohol is higher than normal. It tends to go to your head much more quickly and can easily cause nausea. Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect and will make you lose even more electrolytes and minerals. These minerals are needed to prevent cramps and muscle aches and you already lost a lot of them in the form of sweat. So it’s best to control the urge and reward yourself later in the day.

Marathon recovery
Hydrate yourself

Recovery time after a marathon

The day after your marathon you probably feel completely drained with a lot of muscle aching. But a big question after a marathon for many runners is: When can I start running again? Should I take an absolute break? Gerard Nijboer, Olympic marathoner, explains: “No, you don’t have to take an absolute break, but do take it slow. If you want to recover quickly, it is important to keep the blood circulating, so that you can get rid of the waste in your muscles. So keep moving, but wait till the pain is over before you start running again.” Muscle soreness is actually natural protection against overtraining; it’s a signal that there are still small inflammatory fibers in the muscles which need to heal first. Pain works as a warning; running will feel unpleasant and won’t gain you anything. If the pain lasts longer than a week or gets worse then we suggest seeking some medical advice from a physio or doctor.

In the first few days, everything is focused on your recovery. If you want to stay active go for a swim, go cycling do some yoga or take a walk to stretch out your sore legs. Exercise with controlled breathing and keep your heart rate low. A big go is doing intensive sports in which your leg muscles are heavily loaded again. Working out in the gym is fine, but only if you focus on your torso and arms. In this case, it’s okay to skip leg day. Do not feel guilty about not doing any exercise when you’re not feeling it.

When can you train again after a marathon?

Consider taking a week – or two – off of running. Even well-trained elite runners pick their training back up after a week with only a steady, slow and short run. The recovery capacity of an experienced and well-trained marathoner is many times greater than that of the average runner, who runs a race from time to time. If you belong to the ‘average’ group, it is recommended that you do not run again until the muscle soreness has completely disappeared and moving your body feels easy and pain-free. When you feel like your energy is coming back, and you are motivated to get out, then put on your running shoes for a recovery run, which you can expand further and further when days progress.

Start training for a new running goal

If, after a number of weeks, you can easily handle your slow (endurance) training runs, you can gradually start to bring back more variation into your training sessions. At this time, it’s also possible to look out for a new running adventure that suits you. Pay attention to the training period, intensity and weight of the new running goal. Your body will slowly have to get used to a new schedule.

Route planner eRoutes
Discover new running routes using the eRoutes planner

Train for a race with a plan

Did you pick a new goal? Great! Training with an eRoutes training schedule can make it a lot easier for you. All training schedules, from 10 kilometers to the famous marathon distance, consist of the same pattern: first longer tempo training (intervals) are added, then every now and then a speed boost, where you get up or above the speed of your race (maximum once a week). Download the eRoutes app for free on Android and iOS and let us help you choose one of the 8- or 12-week schedules. Good luck!

Do you already have your own training plan, but are you looking for fun, surprising or new running routes? Then take a look at our desktop route planner. The route planner maps out routes for you from your desired distance anywhere in the world. You can run these routes in your own way, e.g. via GPX on your sports watch. Good luck!

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