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Marathon Race Recovery

by Athletico3 Comments

Congratulations on completing your Marathon! Whether this is your first or 50th marathon, you should be proud of your accomplishment and the hard work that brought you across the finish line. I hope you finished your race smiling. Just remember, recovering from the race is just as crucial as your training. Most experts agree that recovery begins the moment you cross the finish line. This blog post will cover what you can do in the minutes, hours, days and weeks following a big race that will help you prevent injury and replenish your body.


  • Keep moving:  You will be really, really tired and want to sit down immediately after a race. There will be plenty of people sitting on curbs right after the finish line. DO NOT sit down! Walk around for the next 10 minutes at least. Stopping and sitting immediately can cause your blood pressure to drop quickly. This could cause you to become dizzy or faint.
  • Eat and drink:  Some people say that they have no appetite immediately following a race. Others like me will literally pick up the pace so they can eat sooner! Whatever camp you fall into, it is crucial that you eat and drink within 30 minutes of finishing your race. Glycogen, the sugar that your body breaks down and uses for quick energy, is depleted when you finish a marathon. Additionally, your body will need protein to begin repairing your muscle tissue. The perfect recover food/drink is low fat chocolate milk. The USDA and NCAA both endorse low fat chocolate milk because it contains protein for muscle recovery, lactose for carbohydrate fuel and is a liquid so will rehydrate your body. I also ask friends and family members meeting me at the finish line to bring my favorite carbohydrate rich foods and drinks including peanut butter and banana sandwiches and “flat” regular (not diet) soda pop. Additionally, most races have beer at the finish line. One beer is fine, 3 or 4 beers are not! You will be dehydrated so keep the drinking to a minimum.
  • Change into dry clothes: While running, your body feels 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. On top of that, your race clothes will be wet from sweating. You need to change into something dry right away so you don’t become chilled.
  • Mild Stretching:  Mildly stretching your body out immediately following your race will help you prevent tightness. I urge you to at least statically stretch out your hamstrings, quads, calves and hips for 20-30 second holds before sitting in a car. It will make a huge difference!


  • No heat! Do not take a hot bath, sit in a hot tub or use a heating pad. They feel good in the short term but will continue to bring blood to damaged tissue, which will increase the inflammation to the affected areas. You can cause more damage and will definitely experience more muscle soreness if you use heat.
  • R.I.C.E:  Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate but in this case I.R.C.E.!
    • Ice bath:  Ice baths constrict your blood vessels and flush out lactic acid as well as reduce inflammation. I speak from personal experience that they do really help and I notice that I recover much more quickly when I do one after an intense workout. That said, ice baths are not fun and in fact are pretty horrible while you are doing it. The day before your race, buy a couple bags of party ice. When you get home from your race put some cold water in the tub, dump the ice in and force yourself to get into the tub. Try to stay in 10 to 20 minutes.  It is worth it!
    • Rest:  You may want to go out after your race and celebrate. That’s fine but try to celebrate in a seated position! Again, try to avoid drinking alcohol. Continue to eat a lot, ideally a mixture of 4 parts carbohydrate, 1 part protein. Make it an early evening and sleep a lot or at least sit a lot.
    • Compress:  I recommend wearing compression clothing while recovering or at least control top pantyhose (yes, even for the guys!). Like ice baths, it will constrict your blood vessels and flush out lactic acid build up.
    • Elevate:  Put your feet up and make your family serve you! If they question you, tell them this is a very important running activity.


  • Move around the day after the race: You might be a bit sore the day after the marathon but be sure to do some mild stretching and go for a leisurely and short walk. Delayed onset muscle soreness (D.O.M.S.) is caused by microscopic tearing of muscle fiber. Running a marathon will definitely cause some microscopic muscle tearing. D.O.M.S. is usually much worse on the second day after your marathon than the first. It is drastically reduced if you move around some the day after the race.
  • Get a massage: A good, clinical massage will help you be less sore and swollen. A good massage therapist will be able to stretch you out safely and help you recover more quickly!
  • Ease back into exercise:  An old rule of thumb is taking a day off running for every mile you ran in the race. I feel that that this rule is a bit extreme. What I do recommend it easing back into exercise. I generally do not run until the following weekend after a marathon. Then I run at a slow, shake out pace. Additionally, I do a lot of cross training in the month after a marathon. Examples of cross training are Pilates, swimming, cycling and strength training. These different forms of exercise help athletes focus on strengthening areas that may be unbalanced from months of primarily running.
  • Slow the caloric intake:  Let’s face it, you can get away with eating a lot during training. (Even some of the stuff you know you shouldn’t be eating!) Now that you are not running and training quite so hard, it is time to be realistic about how much energy you need. Write down what you eat and think about making healthy choices after the race is over. You don’t want to start next training cycle carrying extra weight.
  • You may feel a bit down for a while:  You will be both physically and mentally tired after your marathon. This physical fatigue and the let down following big events may cause you to be a bit down. It is normal to feel at a loss when you have been so focused on one event and it passes.

Congratulations again on your momentous accomplishment! Be sure to reflect on how well you did and talk to other marathoners about your race. Other runners truly understand how huge this accomplishment is and will be excited to hear about how you did. Great job runners!

If you want to learn more endurance tips, request an appointment with an Athletico physical therapist near you.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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  1. Katerina Lloyd-Ratteree

    Thank you for all these recommendations. I followed all of them and I recovered faster than I ever expected. Immediately after finishing the race I put on a new pair of compression tights and even slept in them that night. I woke up refreshed with no aches at all.



  3. Terri Stewart

    I wish I had read your recommendations before now! Next time I will definitely follow your advice!

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