This post is part of a special series on “How a PT Trains for a Marathon.” Molly Gries PT, DPT, is a physical therapist and marathoner who ran the 2017 Boston Marathon on Monday. Molly outlines her typical marathon recovery plan below.
At this point, you are exhausted from finishing a long cycle of training and completing a race. However, recovery starts at the finish line. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of finishing the race, but just as with any long run, you need to make sure you take proper steps to recover from the race. Everyone recovers at different rates, so do not compare yourself to other people and listen to your body.
On Race Day
- Make sure you keep walking through the finish chute area. Take care of yourself, grab some water, and seek medical attention if needed.
- Eat. Fuel your body within 30 minutes to help your muscles recover. Grab something easy to digest or drink. Try chocolate milk for a protein-packed recovery option if you are not hungry.
- Change clothes. Putting on a new shirt and changing shoes feels good at this point.
- Take the time to stretch. During the day, make sure you take time to stretch, roll out or use a stick, however you typically recovery after your long runs. Walking feels about the worst idea ever at this point, but can be beneficial towards recovery.
One Week Post Race
- Take it easy this week and let your body tell you what it needs. Sometimes you feel great and are ready to hop right back into running but sometimes you need a bit more time to recover.
- Let your legs be the guide. Typically, I wait four to seven days before running to allow for optimal tendon and ligament healing. It takes 72 hours to recover from strenuous exercise. Change your focus from running to activities like walking, stretching, and yoga.
Two Weeks Post Race
- Start to return to your activity gradually. Waiting can be frustrating but you want to ensure your legs feel good when running, especially as you begin to increase speed and intensity. If your legs feel sore and heavy while running, it probably means that you need some more recovery time.
Three Weeks Post Race
Start to ramp up your distances and paces. You are not quite at full speed and distance yet, but start building mileage and speed. The goal is to start to work harder but not go all out.
Four Weeks Post Race
As long as your body feels up to it, let yourself return to a regular running routine.
Common Marathon Recovery Mistakes
- Forgetting to stretch. Even with the excitement and changes of race day, it’s important to not skip stretching. Go through your normal post-run stretches and then celebrate – you’ll recover better.
- Signing up for another race right away. Allow time to recover before you sign up for your next race. We all want to keep working toward new goals but starting out too soon could keep you from another finish line. Give your body the time it needs to respond to the stress and pressure that you have just experienced before lining up another race.
- Forgetting to eat after the race. Sometimes you are not hungry immediately after running or you are off celebrating and forget to eat enough afterwards. Make sure you try to eat something within 30 to 40 minutes post-race and then eat a post-race meal within a few hours of running. Think back to how you recovered for your long runs. You just burned upwards of 2,600 calories; you need food!
Recovery can be a very difficult process for people who are impatient and keep working toward more goals. It’s easy to feel like you are losing all your fitness if you are not running. Remember to be patient with yourself and let yourself recover at your own pace. Your body will thank you for many more years of injury-free running and you’ll be surprised how easily you get back up to your pre-recover fitness level.