The rules of running recovery

Published on
February 18, 2022
Congratulations! You’ve completed a marathon. You’ll need to take things easy for a while to help your body recover from your great achievement...

Congratulations! You’ve completed a marathon. You’ll need to take things easy for a while (which probably seems appealing right now!) to help your body recover from your great achievement. Here are some tips to help things along.

Elevate your legs

Immediately after the race, raise your legs if you can – for example, find a tree and lie under it with your legs up against the trunk for 10 minutes. This will help reduce the build-up of fluid in your legs. This is particularly important for injury-prone runners.

Replenish your energy

Your body can only store a limited amount of energy in your muscles (around 600g of carbohydrate and a small amount of fat). During a marathon, your body will use up these stores, and then move on to your liver, fat cells, and the food and fluid you’ve consumed to get energy.

So, before and after the race it’s important to eat well and increase your carbohydrate intake. This will give you maximum energy stores before you begin and help replenish them afterwards.

Hydration plays an equally important part in your recovery. Drink before, during, and after the race – little and often to avoid the risk of over-hydrating.

Relax and sleep

Make sure you plan time for rest and relaxation after the event. Going straight back to work the next day will only slow your recovery.

Also try getting some extra sleep in the day during your recovery period. Naps of 20 to 40 minutes are recommended – any longer than this and you may find it harder to sleep at night.

Chill out

Ice and cold water can help relieve any pain you might be feeling. Sit in a bath or pool of cold water to ease pain in your legs, or wrap ice in a wet towel to target a particular area. Do not put ice directly on to your skin without a towel though, as this could cause an ice burn.

Take gentle exercise

If you want to exercise in the days after the race, start with walking. A steady 15 or 20-minute walk will help get you back into the swing of things and help your legs recover, without putting your body under too much strain.

You can then build this up to gentle jogging and low-intensity running.

And it’s not just in recovery that going for gentle runs between hard sessions is key. It’s equally important to recover before the race by tapering your runs.

Run on soft surfaces

Running on the road is tough on your muscles, joints and tendons, so when you start exercising again, keep to soft surfaces like grass to reduce soreness. Please note, you’ll need to be careful in wet weather in case the grass becomes slippery, and you’ll also need footwear designed for off-road training.

Take to the water

Like running on soft surfaces, exercising in water is low impact and great for your recovery. The water pressure will also help to remove the waste products and extra fluid that have built up in your legs from all that running. Another benefit of swimming is that it gets your arms working too, so you won’t deplete the energy stores in your leg muscles any further.

Feel refreshed

Contrast therapy takes your body from cold to hot several times in a short period. It has similar benefits to using ice and cold water, only it’s more intensive and should leave you feeling refreshed and wide awake.

After sitting in a cold bath or applying ice to your body, go straight into a hot shower or spa pool. Stay there until you feel hot and your legs are flushed red with blood. Then go back to the cold water or ice and repeat the process several times.

Have a massage

Many runners get a sports massage after completing a marathon. If you’re not used to them, just get a very light massage or ‘recovery rub’ instead.


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