Yeah! You’ve crossed the finish line of your first marathon! The hard work and training is done, right? You may think so, and while the hard work may be done, you need to stay in responsible runner mode for just a little while longer while you begin your marathon recovery.
The marathon puts a huge stress on your body. Paying attention to what you do in the first few hours after you cross the finish line will make a huge difference in how quickly you start to feel human again.
You’ll likely feel like sitting and doing nothing, but that is an approach I guarantee you’ll come to regret.
Your post-marathon activities will vary greatly based on the logistics of the race. Are you at a hotel or heading home? Did you travel? Have a long car ride home? You’ll need to be flexible since every race is different, but knowing the steps to an ideal post-marathon recovery will improve your recovery regardless of your specifics.
The Marathon Recovery Timeline
Savor the moment. As you cross the finish line, enjoy the excitement. Be in the moment and savor your accomplishment. YOU DID IT!
Wait a few moments after you cross the finish line to stop your watch. Most marathoners (myself included) have so many finish line pictures that show us fumbling with our watches instead enjoying our finish. Those few moments aren’t going to make that huge of a difference to your time.
Be in the moment.
Cry if you want to. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two at the finish line. I know I’m not a terribly emotion person, but even I can be relied on to tear up at the finish.
0:00 Minutes – 10 Minutes
Move. Keep walking. Keep moving through the finisher’s chute.
Get your finisher’s medal. Don’t forget to thank the volunteer(s).
Get your space blanket. If your race has them, grab one. You’ll cool off quickly even on the hottest of days. Don’t forget to thank the volunteers(s).
Food and water. Grab the food and water that is available in the finisher’s chute area. Please don’t take more that your fair share of the food. The slower runners will thank you.
Physical check-in. How do you feel? Do you need to stop in the medical tent?
10 Minutes – 1 Hour
Gentle Stretching. Do some basic, easy post-race stretching.
Keep Moving. Avoid stopping or sitting for about an hour post-race.
You will feel like sitting on the grass and relaxing. DON’T! Trust me here, it is so tempting to sit and chill. But if you do, your muscles will tighten up and will take several days to unravel.
Refuel and rehydrate. Drink water or sports drink and eat around 300 calories of simple carbs. I know you’re totally sick of eating bananas, bagels, and gels, but these are great options to kick-start the refueling process.
You may not feel hungry or thirsty. Doesn’t matter, do it anyway. Drink. Dehydration is serious business and your body needs to refuel.
Meetup. Meet up with the friends and family who came to cheer you on.
Change shoes and put on dry clothes (or at least a warm layer). Have your race sherpas carry gear, check stuff into gear check, or keep a change of clothes in the car.
Even on the hottest of days, you will cool off quickly. Dry clothes will help you feel better and stay warm.
1 Hour – 2 Hours
Ice Bath. I can’t (OK, I won’t) do ice baths personally, but many runners swear by them. If you can stomach it, fill a bathtub with ice and cold water and submerge your lower body for 15 minutes.
Cool Bath. My preferred option over the ice bath. Soak your legs in a cool bath for 15 minutes to reduce inflammation. ‘Cool’ here is less than 60 degrees.
Don’t Nap. Be very wary of taking a nap, at least until after you’ve done a bit of stretching or yoga.
A nap will sound super tempting, but if you do it too soon, you’ll regret it when you wake up barely able to move.
Every 1 Hour – 2 Hours Until Bedtime
For the rest of the day:
Eat. Eat small meals every two to three hours. Make these balanced meals that contain about 25 percent of their calories from protein, 20 percent from fat, and the rest from complex carbs.
Drink. Lots of water and lots of sports drink.
4 Hours – 5 Hours
Stretching. Do some more serious stretching or yoga and use the foam roller if you have one.
Legs Up The Wall. For my money, the best (and easiest) recovery pose. Lay on you back with your legs up the wall. Hang out like this for a bit (5-10 minutes).
Move. At some point in the afternoon, move! Walk or leisurely bike around the neighborhood.
This may sound crazy, but keeping the muscles moving is the key to not feeling like total hell tomorrow. You’ll still be sore – I’ve never found a way around that, but I’ve noticed a distinct difference the next day based on the extent to which I kept moving race-day afternoon.
Move, eat and drink for the rest of the day… Eat, drink, and move for the rest of the day… Drink, move, and eat for the rest of the day…
Did you pick up on my ever-so-subtle clues about how to spend your post-race afternoon?