Recovering From a Marathon


As someone who’s run a quite a lot of marathons for both races and training I’ve made every mistake in the book. Not stretching leading to chronic tightness and injury, waiting too long to eat leading to feverish like symptoms, eating too much to quickly leading to stomach discomfort, not resting enough leading to horrible fatigue lasting a week. When it comes to post marathon recovery I feel I’ve made nearly every mistake, however with each mistake came a lesson to be learnt. And thanks to that I’m at the point where I’ve created a recovery routine that allows me to recover quick enough to be running the following day and still feeling good. Sure a lot of this is because I’ve become better adapted for long distance running but it’s largely due to discovering what “works best” for recovery by making mistakes, for me anyway. Now a marathon isn’t something that’ll make me feel like s**t for 3+ days afterwards, I can now run a marathon and lift weights the following day and/or go for another run, it’s just another training day. I’m not writing this to brag but to use myself as an example of if you know how to recover properly a marathon can be added to your monthly or even weekly routine without compromising the rest of your training. So with that being said below is my formula for post marathon recovery, keep in mind this works for me and everyones bodies different so don’t be afraid to make adjustments to suit your own body.

POST MARATHON RECOVERY (0-6 Hours)

Static Stretching, Liquid Proteins & Sugars (0-30 minutes approx.)

As soon as possible you want to kickstart that recovery process, your first want when finishing a marathon is usually to sit down, so sit down and get some water in you. You’re not going to be able to recover if you pass out. However as soon as you feel comfortable start some gentle stretching. I say gentle stretching for two reasons. Reason number one; you’ve just physically pushed yourself for 2-5 hours (depending on who you are) and that’s mentally draining and demanding, so with that in mind you don’t need to create further suffering by stretching as hard as you can, that will come later. You’re quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors and IT bands are also most likely extremely tight from being used repetitively for such a long duration of time. So when you start stretching it’s going to be more painful than usual and you’ll be tighter which makes it more likely for you to pull or tear something whilst stretching. So for these two reasons I recommend gentle stretching. I also recommend you give your hip flexors and glutes a 5 minute gentle massage with a massage ball. Again nothing too aggressive, you’ve already broken down muscle tissue running the marathon so we don’t want to breaking down to much more.

Whilst your gently stretching I recommend you get some liquid simple sugars and protein in you. I say liquid for a few reasons; reason number 1: it’ll aid with the rehydration process, reason number 2: it’s easier to stomach, I don’t know about you but it takes me an hour or so to get my appetite back, reason number 3: it’s easier and quicker for your body to digest and process, this not only means you’ll get the essential sugars and protein into your system quicker to aid with muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment but it also puts less stress on the already stressed digestive system. When you exercise, especially for long periods of time and/or short intense periods of exertion the body diverts blood flow from your digestive system to your working muscles. This is why many suffer from stomach discomfort during a run, a long and/or intense run in particular. The kind of liquids I suggest include: chocolate milk (Big M, Oak, Up & Go) or a whey protein isolate protein shake with a soft drink/soda (Coke, Solo, Fanta) or a fruit smoothie, making sure it contains a significant amount of skim milk for protein. You should also make sure you drink a minimum of 500ML of water and/or electrolyte mix

  • Gentle Stretching
    • Static Stretch: 1 Hamstring Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Hip Flexors Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Quadriceps Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Adductor Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 IT Band Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Calve Stretch (accumulative hold for 30-60 secs)
  • Gentle massage ball
    • Glutes, IT Bands & Hip Flexors
  • Simple Sugars & protein via liquid
    • Chocolate Milk
    • Soft Drink & Lean Protein Shake
    • Fruit Smoothie (Berries, banana, skim milk)
  • 500ML of Liquid
    • Water and/or Electrolyte Drink
Walk, Solid Proteins & Complex Carbohydrates Meal (30 minutes – 2 hours approx.)

Once you’ve stretched and got some simple sugars and proteins in you I recommend you go for an easy 30 minutes – 1 hour walk. I recommend this because it helps to pump your blood into your fatigued muscles. This is important because your blood carries the nutrients required to help heal your muscles, for example the proteins and simple sugars you just consumed. Your blood also contains oxygenated red blood cells which aid with the recovery process. So with that being said it’s good to help the blood pump throughout your body. I also notice a significant increase in flexibility after going for a walk, it also soothes my leg aches that come after a marathon and helps to increase my appetite and relieves stomach discomfort. Once you come back from your walk you gonna want to get straight into eating a solid meal. Your solid meal should be rich in complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, wholegrain pasta, wholegrain bread or oats, in addition to the complex carbohydrates you should be getting in a significant amount of protein such as chicken, lean beef, tuna or no fat greek yoghurt. The complex carbohydrates will replenish your depleted glycogen stores and the protein will help recover damaged muscle tissue. Don’t forget to continue to drink! For the best recovery I recommend a minimum of 500ML of an electrolyte drink in addition to another 500ML of water, if you can drink more, drink more! Try to accumulate the amount of necessary liquid over the time taken to both walk and get in your meal.

  • Walk – Easy 30 minute – 1 hour
  • Complex Carbohydrates & Protein via Solid Meal
    • Rolled Oats & Low Fat Greek Yoghurt (Chobani)
    • Brown Rice & Chicken
    • Wholegrain Pasta & Lean Beef
  • 1-2L of liquid
    • 1L Water
    • 500ML-1L Electrolyte Drink
Shower, Quick Stretch, Nap & Snack (2 hours – 4 hours approx.)

You should be feeling pretty good but also fatigued at this point, you’ll also probably stink! So go have a shower! However instead of just cleaning I recommend you get in some sneaky stretches in the shower. Your going to be tight and the warm water offers the perfect opportunity to loosen up and make stretching a little more comfortable, the shower will also help with increasing blood flow to your damaged muscles. Since I don’t endorse showers longer than 5 minutes I recommend you just get in two basic stretches; the standing quad stretch and standing hamstring stretch. Be more aggressive than the last round of stretches but still be careful. Once you’ve finished your shower go have a 1 hour to 1.5 hour nap, no phone, no nothing, let your mind and body properly relax. You don’t have to fall asleep just do your best to relax and turn your mind off, just ensure you have no distractions which again, includes your phone. Once you’ve had your nap go get yourself a snack that includes substantial amounts of salt and protein as well as some fruit. My top two recommendations include beef jerky and/or salted mixed nuts for the salt and protein snack. When it comes to fruit a banana and/or berries are my top two recommendations, a banana because of the high levels of potassium and magnesium as well as antioxidants which aids with inflammation, and berries because of their high level of antioxidants which again aids with reducing inflammation. The reason I suggest a protein and salt heavy snack is you loose a lot of sodium through sweat whilst running and if you want to optimise recovery replenishing your sodium stores is essential. Don’t forget to keep drinking! Make sure you’re getting in at least a minimum of 1L of liquid (2L preferably) whether from water and/or an electrolyte drink.

  • 5 Minute Shower with Static Stretching
    • Standing Quad Stretch
    • Standing Hamstring Stretch
  • 1 – 1.5 Hour Nap
    • Have a drink bottle with water next to you
  • 1-2L Liquid
    • 500ML-1L Water
    • 500ML-1L Electrolyte Drink
  • Salty Protein & Fruit via solid
    • Beef Jerky & Banana
    • Mixed Nuts & Apple
    • Protein Bar & Berries
Aggressive Stretching, Solid Protein & Fat Meal & Easy Walk (4 hours – 6 hours approx.)

After a solid nap and another snack it’s time to stretch again, however this time we’re not being gentle. I use the same stretches as I do straight after running but you can mix it up if you want to. Just make sure your really stretching the muscle as far out as you can for an accumulative 60 seconds to 120 seconds over as many sets as you’d like. Once you’ve stretched grab your foam roller and/or massage ball and roll out your quads, glutes, hips, lower back and IT bands. When it comes to rolling out don’t focus on how long it takes you but instead focus on only rolling over tight knots (you’ll know when you’re rolling over a tight knot because it hurts), if you don’t feel any then move on. Once you’ve rolled out and stretched I recommend you go for another 30 minute – 1 hour walk, this will once again increase blood flow and help you shake out all the stretching you’ve just done. Once you get back from the walk it’s time to get in another meal, this time the focus should be on healthy fats and proteins. You can have carbohydrates too but the focus should be on fats and proteins. Fats and proteins will aid the body with regulating your hormones which can be out of whack after a marathon and will help your muscles and cells to replenish and recover. Eating fats earlier has higher chances of causing stomach discomfort as digesting fats is harder on the digestive system, so thats why I recommend consuming more fats in your second solid meal and not for first, also your first solid meal should be prioritising retorting glycogen stores and thats best done with carbohydrates. This meal marks the last stage of the immediate recovery process, obviously make sure to keep fluids up and continue to eat good amounts of healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates afterwards. Also make sure to get a good nights sleep!

  • Aggressive Stretching
    • Static Stretch: 1 Hamstring Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Hip Flexors Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Quadriceps Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Adductor Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 IT Band Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
    • Static Stretch: 1 Calve Stretch (accumulative hold for 60-120 secs)
  • Aggressive Massage Ball
    • Glutes, IT Bands, Quads & Hip Flexors
  • Walk – Easy 30 minute – 1 hour
  • Protein & Fats via Solid Meal
    • Stir-Fry with cashews
    • Steak with vegetables
    • Salmon with salad

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