How to Recover After a Half Marathon
We all want to bounce back after running any race and keep up with our training. However, recovery and rest are keys to staying injury-free and to keep improving as well.
So then, how do you recover after running a half marathon race?
It depends on a lot of factors actually. All of which I’m going to cover and get you back to running and continuing to stay injury-free and ready for your next half marathon or full marathon race!
I want to make a point however that this post is referring to after you run a half marathon race. NOT if you just do 13.1 miles for a long run or fun run. Racing takes a different toll on your body and you are running at a much harder effort than you do when you are on a long run for this distance.
Why Recovery Matters Post Half Marathon Race
First and foremost, racing at the half marathon distance is mentally and physically taxing. You spend months training at higher mileages and doing other speed and tempo workouts to get ready for a race. The last thing we want to do after all of that hard work is to burn out mentally of physically.
Think of your recovery as a reset button for your body, only you aren’t going back to square one after. You will reset but come back stronger and better because you took care of yourself.
Even though you have been preparing your body for the half marathon race, the increased effort and oftentimes distance of the half marathon still results in microtears in your muscles. You need to increase your glycogen stores and heal your muscles appropriately will be key to a long life of running races.
The biggest risk to you if you try to come back too soon? Injury. Yes, that dirty 6 letter word that this blog is all about preventing. Injuries happen when we don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and heal from the trauma that exercises cause. This is half of the process.
The other consequence of not resting and recovering properly from a half marathon race? Burnout.
We run because we love it. However, if you push and push and push you will end up resenting it and overtraining.
Keep in mind that even the elite runners take recovery days and weeks to stay at the top of their game mentally and physically.
What should you do immediately after the half marathon race to recover?
First, as soon as you cross that finish line? Take some time to bask in your awesome accomplishment and enjoy the high that you have!! It is such a great experience so don’t stress about recovery! Enjoy this moment in your training cycle! But make sure while you are enjoying you get some food and water in you asap!!
You want to jumpstart the recovery process as soon as you cross the finish line and that means some carbs and protein as well as rehydrating with water!
Recover from a Half Marathon Nutrition
After this distance of a race your appetite may be a little off so don’t worry much about eating “healthy” just get some food in you based on what sounds good. After all, while I don’t like to use food as a reward or celebration, now is the time that your body needs that food and you should enjoy it! Basically, eat what you can within an hour of finishing the race.
Once you get some fuel in you for the rest of the day work on elevating your legs occasionally and doing some light mobility work. You don’t want to get too stiff and the elevation will help keep the swelling in your legs down.
Can I run the day after a half marathon race?
This is a variable question for most people. It depends from one runner to the next.
Some, whether experienced or new, will find that after 1-2 days COMPLETELY OFF from running they can be ready to get back out for a short recovery run. Nice and easy pace and not too far.
On the other hand, after 1-2 days completely off some runners may only be ready for some very light cross training. This is where knowing and listening to your body comes in.
If you are a complete beginner I recommend taking a solid week off from running before you get back out there. Just do some gentle mobility work and very very light cross-training. This is a great time to get in some yoga and easy walks.
However, most people I would say should not run the day after a half marathon race. Give your body a break for at least a day!
What is the fastest way to recover from a half marathon?
The first is to not rush the recovery. Take the needed and recommended time off to let your body heal and come back strong. This is going to get you back to running in the best possible way and to keep you injury-free.
Prioritizing recovery means focusing on refueling, stretching/mobility, rest, and sleep. Notice that running isn’t included in the recovery process! It is time to give your body a break!
My Recommended Half Marathon Recovery Plan
I want to give this plan with a caveat. While this is normally the schedule that I would follow it was not the case after my most recent race. That race did not go well and I needed a solid week off from everything to recover. I was sore and needed a lot of stretching, refueling, and mental self care before I was ready to get back outside on the road running. If you want to read about my race check out this instagram post!
So, what if it wasn’t a bad race but a great or normal race for me? Well this is the general schedule that I would follow.
Day 1: Rest
Day 2: Walk 2 miles – gentle yoga or mobility work
Day 3: Walk 2-3 miles – more gentle yoga or mobility work
Day 4: Spin or ellipitcal trainer for 30-40 minutes nice and easy
Day 5: Recovery Run 3 miles
Day 6: Rest and/or mobility work
Day 7: Easy run 4 miles
Day 8: Spin or elliptical trainer 30-40 minutes
Day 9: Easy Run 5 miles
Day 10: Rest
After 10 days I would be ready to start another base phase of a training plan or just a maintenance type plan. Start slowly incorporating some speed work back in as well as strength training.
Final Thoughts on Half Marathon Race Recovery
Recovery after a race needs to be part of your training plan. I see so many plans out there that get you to race day but then what? It makes it seem like once you get to the race you are done.
This couldn’t be more run. Recovering the right way after a big race is the key to long-term success in all runners. It will make or break your next race and training cycle.
Forgoing recovery and jumping right back into a hard training cycle is a recipe for injury.
What are some recovery tips and tricks that you have used in the past that work great?
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Post Half Marathon Recovery Plan by a Physical Therapist
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.