Well friends, the Pittsburgh Marathon is over. After the hard months and long weeks of training, the weekend came and went like The Flash. With so much anticipation and buildup, you may be wondering what to focus on now. Maybe some of you need a bit of a break from running. But maybe some of you have another run planned for this evening. Recovering from a marathon is actually just as critical as training for the marathon itself. Yet it’s something many runners tend to neglect. This is why we want to take a deep dive into marathon runner recovery and discuss ways to start healing your body.

We know that many of you just want to be done once the marathon is over. But without proper recovery, you’ll increase your risk of injury and extend your recovery time. Not to mention you’ll limit your long-term running potential. After a marathon (or any run of sizable distance) your body is battered and bruised. If you jump right back into training post-marathon with structural, fascial and metabolic issues, you’re only setting yourself up for problems. So let’s jump into the question, “What does marathon runner recovery look like?” one step at a time.

Marathon Runner Recovery: Step One: Eat, Sleep, and Start Moving Again

After the marathon, your muscles are going to be almost completely depleted. They are going to be damaged and torn and in need of the means to start healing. Treat yourself to a protein-rich meal to help aid in that process. And as tempted, as you may be to stay up and celebrate, you need to focus on sleep. Sleep is crucial to your recovery. It is during your Z’s that your muscles, ligaments, and tendons go through the bulk of their repair. Issues of inflammation are also addressed at that time. Try to go to bed earlier this week, or arrange so that you can sleep in a little later than normal. This way you can ensure your body is getting the proper amount of sleep to repair efficiently and effectively.

Many people would assume that you shouldn’t run for the next few days after running a marathon. But that’s not entirely the best idea. As much as you may not want to, you need to continue moving your body. Go for a brisk walk or if you’re up for it, even a light jog. Do something that’s going to get your blood pumping and moving in your legs. Again, this only helps enhance the healing process. This is also your opportunity to be mindful and check in with your body. Is your right knee a bit stiff? Are your hamstrings tight? With this information, you can then work with a chiropractor, massage therapist, or coach to strategize an optimal plan of recovery. And even come up with a future plan to minimize these issues that may have held you back some during the race.

Step Two: Invest in the Recovery Process

A lot of us associate the phrase “Treat Yo-self” with making flashy purchases or investing in luxurious products. But marathon runners in recovery should take that approach to their healing process. Invest in yourself and visit some recovery specialists.

Take the time to visit a chiropractor. In the final miles of a marathon, there is undoubtedly a breakdown in your biomechanics. This means that you are asking more of some specific muscles or muscle groups than others. AKA you’re going to be off-balance and asymmetric by the time you finish the race. You will need chiropractic care to help you not only find balance again. But also help you take care of minor injuries you suffered during the race. A chiropractor will be able to help you work out any issues. And many will give you a small list of strengthening exercises to do at home to aid in the recovery process.

You may also want to take the time to sit down with a physical therapist or sports massage therapist as well. Genuinely talk through your marathon experience with them. They will be able to help you come up with a plan of action and if needed, recommend a specialist to help you with your post-marathon recovery needs.

Step Three: Don’t Just Jump Straight into Running Again

The traditional model of marathon recovery has been thought of as, “Take X days off, then start running again.” But now, as we learn more about the healing process, the new school of thought is to value getting oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscle tissue. One effective way to do that is to swim or do aqua-activities. These are great options because they are low impact ways to move blood around the body. And speed up the healing time of the cellular damage that occurred during the big race. Not to mention, water activity helps to gently massage the lymphatic system to rid the body of toxins and other cellular waste!

Biking, hiking, and cross-training on the elliptical are other great options as you recover. All three of these activities get oxygen-rich blood moving to those damaged muscles. Try giving yourself 2-3 weeks of cross-training before you start running again. And yes, we know for some of you that may be difficult, but your body will thank you in the long run!

Other Tips and Things to Look Out For

  • Celebrate Your Accomplishment: Wear your shirt and/or medal! You just accomplished a huge feat. It’s okay to be proud and flaunt it a bit!
  • Post-Marathon Blues Exist: There’s a chance you are going to be completely exhausted and even a bit depressed the week after the marathon. Know that this is normal and will generally go away as you continue to recover. If it doesn’t pass with self-care, seek professional help. The chemical changes that occurred during the race could have caused an imbalance, which could lead to clinical depression.
  • Stiffness and Soreness: You’re going to hurt. A lot. You’re going to feel muscles you didn’t even know existed. The pain may not be immediate, but when it does occur, expect it to last for the next 2-4 days.
  • Nutrition Help: Eat a balanced diet. Minus that first protein-rich meal, start giving your body a balance of macro/micro nutrients. If you were on a weightloss diet, postpone getting back into it for at least a week after the marathon. Indulge cravings moderately.
  • You May Gain a Bit of Weight: It is normal to see a 2-4 pound weight gain immediately after the marathon. Most likely this will be from water retention as your muscles repair and rebuild. Do not panic. Continue eating a balanced diet and the body will begin to balance itself out.

For a more specific “Week Zero” recovery plan, click here.

Need a Helping Hand?

Whether this was a one and done or you plan to continue running marathons, you are now a marathoner for life. The runner’s high is no lie, so you most likely going to feel the urge to race again soon. It is more critical than ever to start taking care of yourself during this recovery time, and at Zock Family Chiropractic, we want to help! Contact us today to schedule an introductory chiropractic session. We can discuss your recovery routine and needs as part of my initial chiropractic workup for you as a new patient to our practice.


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.