How To Rest And Recover After A Marathon?

How to rest and recover from a marathon
How to rest and recover from a marathon

When we think of recreational running, we think of all the benefits it can do for our health–the time spent outdoors, the fresh air, the calories burnt, a fit body, and so on. But running a marathon is a different ball game altogether. It takes months of preparation to do a marathon, even a half marathon or a 10k run. On the marathon day, your body is stretched to its limits; your endurance, strength, stamina, everything gets tested. With marathons getting popular, the yearly incidence rates for injuries from marathon running are reported to be over 90 percent.1 Yes, you heard it right: 90 percent! So, if you don’t train right or run right, you could be in that 90 percent.

Most running injuries are found to be lower extremity injuries, especially knees. Most of them are overuse injuries: 50–75 percent, to be precise. The running injuries can recur if ignored with 20-70 percent of cases reporting recurrence.2 This is where rest and recovery play a major role.


Rest And Recovery Replenishes Energy Levels And Repairs Tissues

Rest is important because it is the time the body takes to adapt to the stressors associated with running, replenish the energy stores called glycogen and allow the tissues to repair. Apart from how well you rest your body, your recovery depends largely on your genes (Yes, genetics play a huge role in your recovery phase), your age and your gender. The importance of sleep cannot be undermined. Not just the quantity but the quality of sleep is important to recover completely. If you’re over the age of 40, it is natural for your body to take longer to recover. Women are found to take more time recovering than men.3

Seasoned runners adopt short-term (within hours of a marathon) and long-term (recovery periods built into a training session) strategies to recover completely from the effects of a marathon.4


The first 30 minutes–3 hours are crucial for proper cool down which sets the pace for recovery. Here’s what you can do”

1. Shift To A Light Jog Towards The End Of The Run

There’s a lot of debate around whether stretching soon after a marathon is good for your muscles. And an overwhelming majority says no to stretching. While no research proves it is helpful, there is evidence to show that stretching can, in fact, be counterproductive. It can overstretch the muscles leading to muscle cramps, strains and sometimes even pulls. So, you would want to avoid that fully.5


The most important thing to do right after you have crossed the finish line is to keep moving. Don’t plonk down or take that much-needed rest just yet. Instead, walk some more. Or shift to a light jog. This will help minimize the chances of cardiac arrhythmias that can be dangerous. A light jog or walk would bring the heart rate and blood pressure down, reduce dizziness and dissipate lactic acid in the body.

Go collect your finisher’s medal first and head to food counter to fuel up. You might find those counters slightly away from the finish line, but that’s just the organizers steering you down the correct recovery path. As you walk or jog that small distance, you are ensuring that your body is moving and not stopping suddenly.6


2. Get A Healing Massage, But Only A Week Later

Most marathoners find it too painful to undergo a massage, however light it may be, soon after a marathon. Additionally, research has shown massages providing little or no relief at all to the sore muscles. Then, why try at all? That said, a relaxing massage a week or two after the big even can really do wonders for muscle recovery.7

3. Stay Away From Hot Showers, Try An Ice Bath Instead

Stay away from hot showers or jacuzzi though you could be craving for it after a tiresome run. You might hate us for saying this, but what you actually need is an ice bath. Simply because studies say it is good and experienced legs endorse it.8


4. Wear Compression Gears

Getting into compression gear like tights or socks will help increase the blood flow to the muscles, albeit marginally. Even if it doesn’t completely cure your fatigue, you must try it, just because it is comfortable and there are no side effects.9

5. Ensure Adequate Nutrition

The importance of nutrition before and for many weeks after the run cannot be emphasized enough. Marathon runners should understand that long bouts of strenuous exercise and training and the final run can reduce the body’s proper immune function. It is therefore essential that runners maintain their immune function by eating a well-balanced diet that will take care of all their energy demands. By a well-balanced diet, we mean an adequate intake of iron, zinc, and vitamins A, E, B6 and B12. At the same time, stay away from fat because it can cause further depression in immune function.10


An antioxidant-rich diet is the best bet at this period of recovery. Though no research says it improves performance, antioxidants reduce lipid peroxidation or oxidative degradation of lipids after the performance.11

Recent studies have also shown that drinking tart cherry juice increases the total antioxidative capacity of the body, reduce inflammation, and lipid peroxidation and thus help in the recovery of muscle function. Runners must start off on drinking this juice a week before the race day and continue for a couple of days or so after the race.12


6. Try Aerobics

Studies have also shown that aerobic fitness can improve recovery after a high intensity exercise. It also helps in removing lactic acid build up in the muscles after an intense activity like marathon.13

7. Stay Hydrated

One of the most common myths associated with running is hydration. Runners are often told to keep drinking fluids as much as possible in order to keep the body hydrated. While it is essential that the body is well-hydrated, over hydration can cause more complicated problems than dehydration. When we drink too much fluids, we tend to dilute the sodium in our body. Sodium is an electrolyte that is essential in maintaining the optimum water levels within and around our cells. When the sodium levels become abnormally low, it results in hyponatremia. The effects of hyponatremia can range from mild to life-threatening.14

8. Set New Goals And Work Towards Them

This is real. Most runners relate to feeling a sense of loss after a marathon. As the goal for the past 4 months of training does not exist anymore, one could even feel a bit let down. We suggest you keep yourself occupied with other activities till you get over this phase. This is perhaps a good time to be catching up on all the activities that were missed out in the training months. One could also use this time to set new goals for the future or plan something out, as this would present something to look forward to.

The road to a proper recovery from a marathon is a long one. And there are no shortcuts. Proper health education, a well-planned recovery schedule, a well-balanced and healthy diet, regular exercise and training, all go into both the preparation for and recovery from a marathon.