Most marathoners agree that the last 6.2 miles of the race are just as hard as the first 20. This is when calves tighten, quads burn, and joints start to ache. But all that becomes a blur as you drive yourself toward the finish line. Sadly, crossing the finish line does not make the pain go away. You'll need to start the recovery process soon after.
The First Few Hours
Most people want to lie down after they cross the finish line. Don't. Instead, walk around slowly for 5 to 10 minutes to keep your muscles loose.
You will need fluid after the race even if you drank a lot during the race. Water alone will not do the trick. Your levels of glucose, sodium, and other electrolytes will be low. You can rehydrate with smoothies, recovery drinks, and juice. Sip slowly.
You should begin eating about 15 minutes after you finish. Eating helps to restore energy and hydration levels. You may want to choose a shake that provides you with fluid, protein, and carbohydrates.
Take Care of Your Body
Take care of your body after the race. Start by changing out of your sweaty clothes and into dry ones before you get cold.
Try to do what makes you feel better. If stretching feels good, stretch. If walking keeps you from getting tight, keep walking slowly. If you feel a throbbing injury, ice it.
Use Ice, Not Heat
Heat is one thing you should avoid during the first few days after a race. A Jacuzzi, hot tub, or heating pad might seem like the perfect thing for aching legs, but they can increase swelling and muscle soreness. It seems less soothing, but you should ice your aching muscles and joints instead or take a very short bath in ice water.
The First Week or Two
The recovery continues in the weeks following the race.
You will be sore. Climbing up and down stairs will be a challenge. Pay attention to your body and its need for rest. The soreness should go away in a few days.
You may want to schedule a massage after your race. You'll want to work with someone who is familiar with massaging people who run long distances. Ask your runner friends for a referral.
Light walking and stretching will help you get back some flexibility and ease muscle soreness. Just remember to stretch gently. Too much stretching may trigger spasms in damaged muscles.
Lay Off the Running
Training for a marathon gets you in the habit of running a lot. You may be tempted to hit the road after a few days of rest. This may result in injuries. Recovery time is just as important as the hill and tempo runs you included in your training plan.
Do not run for one to two weeks. Start back up slowly. Run at a pace that would allow you to talk to another person.
The Weeks that Follow
Do not worry. Your body will not ache forever. But it will take some time before you are back to full strength. Use this time to try other activities that do not stress your body as much as running. You should also ease up on your mileage and intensity.
Many marathoners feel letdown after the end of many months of training. The best way to stay motivated is choose a post-marathon goal. This will allow you to start planning and training for your next event.
Finishing a marathon is an athletic feat. Take time to enjoy the feeling and give your body the time it needs to fully recover.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Running Association
Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine
After the marathon. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_fit_facts_content.aspx?itemid=2645. Accessed October 12, 2021.
Maschi R. Marathon recovery tips: Getting back on the road safely. Drexel University website. Available at: http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2012/november/marathon-recovery-tips. Accessed October 12, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/12/2021