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A Guide to Post-Marathon Recovery

Marathon Running Race

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is the result of months of hard work and dedication. It is also the moment that the recovery process begins. Taking the appropriate steps post-marathon will facilitate recovery, reduce soreness, and allow for a quicker return to running. When it comes to recovery immediately after your race, be sure to follow these three steps:

  1. As soon as you stop your running watch and receive your medal, be sure to keep walking! This will help return the body back to its resting levels and prevent venous pooling in your legs. This continued blood circulation allows for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and the removal of waste products.
  2. Make sure you eat within 30 minutes, incorporating carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores, protein to repair muscle damage, and water and electrolytes to rehydrate and restore electrolyte levels. While you will want to celebrate your achievement, try to limit your alcohol consumption.
  3. Change into dry clothes and do some light stretching after your run. Regardless of the weather, your body temperature will drop and you may feel some post-race chills, so grab a heat sheet until you can get to your change of clothes.

Your recovery continues the days after your marathon. Be sure to do the following!

  • Get as much sleep as possible. During this time the body is able to repair damage and restore our muscles and tissues. Try to make sure you get a good night’s sleep and fit in naps when you can.
  • Eat nutrient-rich foods. Your appetite will likely be elevated the days post-marathon, so it is important to try to provide it with foods that are high in nutrients. You may also gain a few pounds of water weight during this time, but this will level out once your nutrient levels are restored.
  • Hydrate. Your body will require additional water during its repair stage so make sure you keep a water bottle with you and drink regularly.
  • Leave your blisters alone. Blisters can happen to any runner but it’s how you address them that is important. Blisters can get infected so if one pops, be sure to use a band aid and ointment. If it looks red or irritated, be sure to see a doctor.
  • Be sure to cross train. Choose easy cross training activities as you ease your body back to exercise. For example, biking, swimming, or using an elliptical are great options to consider the week after your marathon.
  • Relax your muscles. The days after a marathon are a great day to get a gentle massage, take an ice bath, or wear compression socks. Whatever makes you feel better!
  • Protect yourself from germs. Your immune system is significantly compromised after a marathon making you more susceptible to getting sick. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and take precautionary measures around those who may be under the weather.

The most important thing is take your time returning to running in order to reduce your risk of injury. While your mind may be ready to hit the pavement again, your muscles and immune system may not be ready. Be sure to join us on Marathon Monday in the HSS Recovery Zone from 8 am to 5 pm for some stretching, recovery, and to answer any of your questions.

Reviewed on October 26, 2018

Pamela Geisel, MS, CSCS is a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance. She graduated with honors from Towson University with a bachelor’s in exercise science and received her master’s in exercise physiology from Adelphi University. She has been in the fitness field since 2007 and has a special interest in using strength training to maximize performance and reduce injury for runners. Geisel is a long distance runner and has completed four marathons, more than a dozen half-marathons, and many 5K and 10K races.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.