How to Recover from a Marathon
Have you thought about how you will recover from your next marathon or other long distance race? If you are like most runners, myself included, probably not. Running a marathon is a brutal experience, and you need to recover well if you want to continue running.
After my last marathon, I found myself staying up way too late, binging on Netflix shows I had abandoned, eating and drinking whatever I wanted, and generally feeling like a slob. Hey, I had just come off of a grueling training cycle, set a huge PR, and thought I deserved a break. I didn’t move much for almost 10 days, and really felt sluggish when I started back. I even ended up with a slight injury that I attributed to my lack of a recovery plan.
You need to gently ease your body back into a system that will enable you to resume your great disciplines. Training for your next race shouldn’t feel like you are starting from scratch.
Active recovery is a great for post-marathon recovery, and below is a fantastic schedule you can follow to make sure you’re ready to tackle your next big event.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Marathon?
No matter what pace you run, completing a marathon puts your body under tremendous trauma. Everything, from your head down to the soles of your feet, is tired. You need to give yourself adequate recovery if you want to continue running year after year.
Runners Connect has a great article explaining the science behind marathon recovery. Coach Jeff explains that your muscles take about two weeks to get back to where they were before the marathon. You also inflict damage at the cellular level that lasts up to 10 days. Wonder why you get sick after a big race? A marathon will fatigue your immune system so much that you become more susceptible to catching a cold or worse for up to two weeks after.
With all of this in mind, an amateur runner should take no less than three weeks to recover from a marathon.
A Good Marathon Recovery Schedule
Kyle Kranz is a runner, blogger, coach, and social media guru for Skora running. He recently posted a great marathon recovery schedule that I am going to follow after my next race. I talked with my coach and he said, “this is a good plan!” It provides a very detailed, yet simple plan for getting your body back after running a marathon.
It involves using activity as a form of recovery, which is important. Dr. Ty has said,
…movement, within reason, is important in reducing soreness. It activates the muscles to contract and improves the flow of nutrients to the muscles as well as carries away the toxins that have built up within the tissue.
Days 1-7 Post Marathon
- Day 1 – Rest / Walk
- Day 2 – Rest / Walk
- Day 3 – Rest / Walk
- Day 4 – 30-45 minutes cross training
- Day 5 – Easy run of 20-40 minutes
- Day 6 – Rest / Walk
- Day 7 – 30-45 minutes cross training
Days 8-14 Post Marathon
- Day 8 – Easy run of 30-60 minutes
- Day 9 – 15 minutes more cross training than you ran yesterday
- Day 10 – Same amount of cross training as the previous day
- Day 11 – Easy hour run
- Day 12 – Easy hour run
- Day 13 – Same amount of cross training as previous
- Day 14 – Rest / Walk
Days 15-21 Post Marathon
- Day 15 – Easy hour or longer with a few short 30 second strides during the run (we’re finally starting to wake up the legs again!)
- Day 16 – Easy run, no strides, a bit shorter than yesterday
- Day 17 – Similar to day 15
- Day 18 – Rest/Walk
- Day 19 – Easy hour with strides
- Day 20 – Easy hour with strides
- Day 21 – Rest/Walk
The third week includes five days of running, as well as strides. This is where he suggests you begin a more serious training schedule. He also encourages you to
Feel free to modify to your own needs and how your own body feels. Please, please, please do not run with tight muscles. Doing this influences your entire run gait and risks injury.
Cross training is anything that doesn’t fatigue you. It’s also important to mention that the easy runs are meant to be SUPER easy, and if you need to cut them short, do.
I’ve also struggled with how to mentally recover from a marathon. If I don’t have a specific plan going into the race, it becomes scary how quickly I default to sitting on the couch and watching endless amounts of Netflix… it is hard to stay motivated.
My two best tips are to schedule your next race (just something easy at least 4 weeks out), and make a list of all the fun things you’ve been putting off during your training.
How do you recover from a marathon? Do you swing to the opposite end of the discipline spectrum and let yourself go? Or have you found a good system for giving yourself a break, while maintaining the good habits developed during your training cycle?
Share your best tips to recover from a marathon below.