Post-Marathon Recovery: What To Do After Running A Marathon

Coach Alexa’s Guide to Post-Marathon Recovery

With Coach Alexa, Online Running Coach for We Run and the We Run Virtual Running Club

Hi team, Coach Alexa here. We’re in the thick of the spring marathon season at the moment, and so there’s lots of information flying around about how to prepare for the race, and how to approach running a marathon. One thing people often overlook, however, is what to do after running a marathon, and so I’m going to talk through some thoughts on that topic today.

What To Do Immediately After Finishing a Marathon

Immediately after you cross the finish line, my biggest top tip is to keep moving. Particularly if you’ve just completed a sprint finish, don’t stop dead at the Finish Line. Our muscles, when they contract, help in pushing blood back towards our heart, lungs and brain. When we finish a race, our heart is still pumping furiously, and stopping dead means we’re not getting as much of that venous return (the return of blood back up our veins), which is why stopping suddenly can cause nausea or dizziness due to a drop in blood pressure. So, keep walking!

Post Marathon Refuelling and Rehydration Strategies

Post-race, you’ll likely be at least a little bit dehydrated, and low on fuel, meaning your carbohydrate energy storage is depleted. Start with liquids – water, or electrolytes if it’s been a hot day. I wouldn’t recommend alcohol straight away unless you’re very keen on celebrating! It’s worth thinking about planning ahead so you have something to eat in your drop bag, ideally something with carbohydrates to help you refuel, and a bit of protein as well. This not only refuels you but also helps with muscle recovery too.

Keep Warm To Avoid Stiffening Up

Despite technically being spring, it’s quite autumnal outside as I’m recording this, so it’s also worth thinking about packing some warm clothes and perhaps warm food and drink for after your race too. Muscles will stiffen up a lot more quickly if you’re cold, so keep moving and keep warm.

Diet Considerations After A Marathon

For your post-race meal, it’s beneficial to include foods rich in vitamins and minerals – a nice healthy lunch with a mix of vegetables, for example, will help ensure your body has what it needs to aid in the recovery process. These help in recovering not just the muscles but also your bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Aim for a healthy, balanced meal and consider taking a nap to aid recovery. Sleep is the best possible thing for recovery, so if you can, get in an afternoon nap, or at the very least a nice early night. Prioritising sleep in the week or two post race will pay dividends in terms of your recovery.

Easing Back Into Training

Thinking about things from a training perspective, in the first week after the marathon, I suggest no running for most runners. Go for walks, swims, or bike rides instead – anything nice and gentle and low impact that will help warm the muscles and increase blood flow without generating more impact loading through the joints, tendons, ligaments and bones. By the second week post race, if you’re eager, you can start with short, gentle runs – I’d normally suggest no more than two or three. These should be at a really easy pace. In the third week, if you’re feeling up to it, you can think about gradually returning to your normal running schedule.

Reflecting on Your Training and Race

Post-marathon is a great time to reflect on your race and training. Think about what went well and what could be improved. This is also an opportunity to focus on aspects like strength training, which might have been neglected during marathon preparation. I’m a big advocate of taking a little break from endurance training after a big event like a marathon or ultramarathon; it takes a toll physically, emotionally and socially, so taking a little break can be a helpful reset from the strains of endurance training. This doesn’t necessarily mean you stop running training – you might switch your focus to improving your 5k tie, for example, so you’re still running, but the sessions will be a lot shorter and with a very different focus.

For other runners, this might mean having no goals for a while, and that’s absolutely fine too! As part of your post-race reflections, think about what you enjoyed most about your training. After all the hard work and dedication of training for a big race or event, it can be really nice just to focus back on the things you most enjoy about running.

Concluding Advice for Marathon Runners

Whether you’re running the London Marathon next weekend or any other, these tips will hopefully assist in your recovery and future training planning. Good luck with your races and happy running!

Share With Your Running Buddies!