How to recover from a marathon

Matthew Piff Matthew Piff Regional Physiotherapy Lead
From first-timers to seasoned pros, reaching the marathon finish line should fill you with a sense of pride and achievement. But you’re not quite done.

The final stage of a marathon training plan should always be recovery. Recovery is essential for minimising your injury risk and skipping this vital stage can often inhibit your future performance. 

26.2 miles puts a huge amount of physical strain on your body. This is true whether this is your first marathon or your tenth. Your immune system will be down and your muscles will be severely fatigued. 

Assess the damage that you've received immediately after your run and in the week following. If you’ve suffered a muscle strain or are feeling pain in a joint you may need advice or treatment. If pain or injury persists, listen to your body and go and get this checked out immediately.

In the first couple of days after the event you shouldn’t be doing any running. The most common concern which drives people to over-train too quickly is loss of fitness, but there is little loss of conditioning in the couple of weeks you take off to recover. Keep active by doing gentle, low impact exercise such as walking or swimming to avoid straining yourself. 

Because you'll most likely be thinking about the pre-race right up to the start line here’s a quick checklist to make sure you don't forget about the post-race recovery: 

After the race

  • Get out of your wet clothes and into warm dry clothes as soon as possible
  • Put your feet up for 10 minutes (i.e. lie on your back with your legs up against a tree) this will help reduce the build-up of fluid
  • It's also important to stretch out after your run, as this can help to avoid injury. A gentle static stretching routine will achieve this
  • Drink sugary drinks to get some calories and re-hydrate quickly
  • Assess any blisters or injuries. Make sure the blisters are clean and dry and if you have any muscle or joint pain get some ice or cold water on the area for 20 minutes every 2 hours
  • Eat proper balanced meals including carbohydrates and protein. Eating within the first 2 hours following the marathon is the most effective time to replenish your energy stores
  • And most importantly get a good night's sleep.

The next 2 days

  • Avoid being in a static position apart for sleeping
  • Active recovery is better than sedentary. For example, take a 15-30 minute walk, gentle cycle or swim
  • Continue eating properly balanced meals
  • Gently massage and stretch your calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads. Your muscles may feel tired and sore, but this is normal.

How long does it take to recover after a marathon?

You should be over the worst 72 hours after the marathon. If any pain persists for longer than this period, it's advisable to seek advice from a physiotherapist.

When to run again after a marathon

It's important to note that there's no hard and fast rule for returning to running, but a period of recovery is advisable. Tune into your body and listen to how it feels.

How long to rest will depend on how hard you pushed yourself. It may be worth considering not running for seven days. For a more optimal recovery, hold off from running for 14 days and just do non-impact activities until then.

Last updated Tuesday 27 September 2022

First published on Sunday 3 October 2021