How Do I Recover From a Marathon?
Get to the finish line of a marathon, and a few runners might vow to never run again. But when all’s said (and run), many competitors end up catching the running bug — and can’t wait to register for that next big race. But just how long does it take the body to recover from running 26.2 miles and get back to peak performance?
Run, Rinse, Repeat? — The Need-to-Know
Immediately after a long-distance run, studies show running economy (i.e. how efficiently the body uses oxygen) is severely impaired . So while the hard work might appear to be behind us, the body is still struggling to keep on truckin’, and tending to those damaged muscles along the way.
But what’s the right formula for R&R? While myths like “take one day of rest for each mile raced” persist, there’s no science to back them up. Some experts do, however, recommend resting 3-7 days to allow muscles to recover before gradually easing back into running. The reason for the range? Muscle recovery is highly variable between individuals, because how the muscles react to stress differs from person to person. But most individuals can expect soreness from the rebuilding cycle to set in about 24-48 hours post-race, peaking after 72 hours before tapering off. The key: allowing the muscles to fully recover, properly tending to any new or nagging injuries (doctor’s orders!), and, once the body’s good and ready, picking back up with good running form.
Becoming a Recovery Superstar — Your Action Plan
It may be tempting to veg out for a while after completing a marathon — and of course, you've earned the right to! But for those who can't wait to run again (or at least walk normally instead of hobble), there are more than a few scientifically proven ways to speed recovery. Check out these tips to run long and return to work the next day seemingly unscathed (hero!):
- Train wisely: The better the preparation, the smoother the recovery. If the distance and pace of the race is comparable to what’s done in training, the muscles will have likely already adapted to that level of stress — minimizing tearing and soreness.
- Roll out: For some inexpensive DIY relief, try foam rolling or to help alleviate built-up muscle tension and increase flexibility . A golf or tennis ball should also do the trick on tough spots!
- Eat right: Not that we'll need any encouragement to chow down post-race! To help the muscles recover as quickly as possible, seek out protein-rich foods. And to drink: Research suggests chocolate milk can work surprisingly well as a recovery drinks, due to its optimal ratio of carbs to protein . Of course, don't forget some good old-fashioned H2O as well to stay hydrated!
- Ice, ice, baby: The pros do it — why shouldn’t you? It may sound brutal, but immersing the legs in a chilly ice bath has been proven to significantly lower muscle soreness and help maintain strength and flexibility .
- Compress yourself: Many distance runners these days wear compression gear before, after, and even during the race. No, the 80s aren't back — those neon-colored knee socks are actually one form of compression garments, which can reduce soreness and inflammation .
- Get low — impact, that is: Greatist Expert Andrew Kalley puts swimming at the top of his post-race regimen since there’s “no impact on the body and the water is soothing on the muscles.” Another way to get on the road to recovery: an easy ride on the exercise bike. “It’ll get the legs moving again, and draws new blood to the area, which will speed up recovery,” Kalley says.
As with training, the trick to full muscle recovery is finding what works for you. Each person's body is unique and may react differently to various post-race routines. It’s up to you to find that winning combination — and run with it!
What are your favorite recovery tips and tricks? And how long do you typically take before long-distance races? Tell us in the comments below!
- Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Saunders, PU, Pyne, DB, Telford, RD, et al. Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport, Belconnen, ACT. Sports Medicine. 2004;34(7):465-85.⤴
- The effects of active release technique on hamstring flexibility: a pilot study. George, JW, Tunstall, AC, Tepe, RE, et al. Department of Research, Logan College of Chiropractic, St. Louis, MO. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 2006 Mar-Apr;29(3):224-7.⤴
- The effects of low fat chocolate milk on postexercise recovery in collegiate athletes. Spaccarotella, KJ, Andzel, WD. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Dec;25(12):3456-60.⤴
- Effect of water immersion methods on post-exercise recovery from simulated team sport exercise. Ingram, J., Dawson, B., Goodman, C., et al. The University of Western Australia, Human Movement and Exercise Science. Journal of Science in Medicine and Sport, 2009 May;12(3):417-21. Epub 2008 Jun 11.⤴
- Do compression garments enhance the active recovery process after high-intensity running? Lowvell, D.I., Mason, D.G., Delphinus, E.M., et al. School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health and Education, University of the Sunshine Coast. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Dec;25(12):3264-8.⤴
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