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Now What? Post-Marathon Recovery

This past weekend, over 50,000 runners participated in the New York City Marathon, the largest race in the world. Months of rigorous training went into those 26.2 miles, but what happens after you cross the finish line is just as important when it comes to preparing for your next race.

You may feel ready to take on the world after your marathon, but your body needs a break. You’ve likely iced your joints and muscles immediately after the race, but be sure to wait a few days before any sort of major heat. A session in the sauna or a hot tub will relax muscles, but adding heat too soon after the race will further inflame them. Instead, take a break and schedule a massage. These activities bring blood flow to areas that need repairing.

Don’t get right back to running. In the first week post-marathon, focus on stretching and low-impact cross-training activities, like easy bike rides, or walking. Swimming is especially easy on the back. Gentle yoga poses such as child’s pose are great for helping muscles heal.

Then, try an easy 30-minute run at the end of the week to gauge how your body is feeling. If, at the end of your first week, you’re still experiencing pain, stick to cross-training and stretching. But even if your body is feeling okay, this still isn’t the time to return to your full marathon training schedule; keep in mind it takes the calf muscles about two weeks to regain their strength after a marathon.

After week two of recovery, it’s safe to run the same number of days you did during training for a shorter period of time –between 30 and 60 minutes – and at a slower pace. It isn’t until week three or four post-marathon that you should attempt the same intensity or distance you managed in the height of your training (read my post on exercising outdoors in winter for more information to train safely after your fall marathon).

Finishing a marathon comes with complex emotions – and all kinds of aches, pains and minor injuries. After you’ve finished your race and celebrated, the key is to let your body heal.