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The Best Ways to Recover After a Marathon

July 19, 2019

Completing a marathon is one of the great personal milestones for any runner. It’s also an achievement that the body takes personally. A marathon runner pounds the road surface roughly 40,000 times to cover 26.2 miles, each stride putting a strain on the joints, muscles, and heart. For that reason, your recovery strategy should be as clearly planned as your training schedule. Whether you’re preparing for your first or just your latest marathon, here’s how to make sure you’ll be ready for another soon after.


What a Marathon Does to Your Body

The effort and excitement involved in running a marathon floods your body with adrenaline, which pumps blood to your extremities. Over the next 4 to 5 hours, there’s a lot going on…

One Step at a Time

  • You’ll lose 3 to 6 liters of sweat moderating your core body temperature.
  • You’ll burn roughly 100 calories every mile. The body can only store around 2,000 calories as glucose, so…
  • You might “hit the wall” when your body has to raid fat stores for energy.
  • Your heart will work at up to 90% capacity for several hours.
  • You could lose up to 5 kilograms of water. In fact, two-thirds of runners show immediate signs of kidney damage, but numbers return to normal within two days or so.


What to Do Immediately After the Finish

Once you cross the finish line, the body might want to come to a halt, but the spirit must take control. Keep moving for 10 to 15 minutes to let the heart rate come down gradually and allow blood to circulate through your exhausted muscles. You’ve earned that reflective blanket, so peel off any sweaty clothes and stay warm. Changing into a pair of flip flops will help soothe swollen feet, or put on some compression socks to stop blood pooling.


Nutrition and Hydration Matter

With your body’s energy stores ransacked, you should aim to eat something in the first hour after the race. Go for an easily digestible but nutritious snack, aiming for three parts carbs to one part protein. The carbs will restore blood sugar levels, and protein will help with muscle repair. Top up your hydration with electrolytes until your urine returns to a normal color. In the days after your marathon, eat iron-rich foods to boost red blood cell levels, and pay attention to getting plenty of vitamins and minerals, as your immune system will have taken a battering.


Take Care of Bones, Muscles, and Joints

After the runner’s high has worn off, your body will start to complain. Expect muscle soreness in the days following the marathon, which can last for up to a week. Long-distance running wisdom recommends resting one day for every mile run before resuming training. Some light exercise or low-resistance swimming or stretching will help flush lactic acid from the muscles. Science is conflicted when it comes to soaking immediately after the run. An ice bath will reduce inflammation and delay the onset of soreness, but soaking in a warm bath is equally effective and a lot more relaxing.


Avoid These Marathon Recovery Pitfalls

Ultimately, you’ll only find out what really works for you by listening to your body. Experienced runners can show minimal side-effects the day after a marathon. Opinions are practically unanimous, however, on the importance of the following.

  • Keep moving after the finish line. Avoid sitting or lying down unless it’s with your feet up.
  • Steer clear of deep massage for 24 hours to give your muscles time to repair and recover.
  • Lay off the painkillers. Your body is extra-sensitive to their side effects, since your kidneys and major organs are dehydrated. This really is a time when pain is weakness leaving the body, so let it go.
  • Skip the alcohol. Replenish with electrolytes and leave the celebrations for tomorrow!
  • Clean and cover your blisters, but leave them alone if they’re intact. Blisters are a natural protection for distressed skin but can easily become infected if popped.


If you’ve heard the expression that a challenge is “a marathon not a sprint,” this is one occasion when it’s 100% accurate. Ease yourself into the running rhythm, cross the line, then ease yourself back out of the experience. The more you can tune into what your body is telling you, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the process rather than suffer an ordeal.


Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.

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