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Tell Me Tuesday: Recovery after a Half-Marathon or Marathon

Me (orange l/s tee, black hat and vest) and 150 of my marathoning buddies on a gorgeous fall morning in the Twin Cities.

After Marathons 1 through 7, it took me almost a month to feel like my old self again. My legs felt heavy; my pace felt sluggish; I started to drool into my pillow at about 9:15 most nights. But this year, for Marathons 8 and 9, I’ve taken a new tactic: Instead of resuming to run a few days after the race, I’m now taking a full week off from exercise—and, oh, what a delightful difference it makes. My arse isn’t dragging, either proverbially or almost literally. I ran the Twin Cities Marathon on October 7, and my first run after it was just yesterday—an easy four miles. My legs felt fresh, and I was so excited to hit the road again, I practically skipped out the door. Here are five tips for pushing the reset button after a 26.2- or 13.1-mile race:

Give your body a break. You just asked your muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments to carry you 26.2 miles—they deserve some R&R. When I read on our Facebook page that mother runner Janet had conquered the Long Beach Marathon on October 7, then run eight (8!) miles on October 9, I winced and clutched my quads. Trust me: You won’t lose your fitness gains in a few days, and you’ll return fresher if you take a week or 10 days completely off of running after a marathon, or three to five days after a half.

Be vigilant about self-care. I always try to budget for a massage two days post-race. The therapists works out tight spots and potential problem areas I don’t know exist until she lays hands on them (hey, calf muscles, I’m talking about you!). The weeks and month following a big race are also the time to cozy up to your foam roller, The Stick, or frozen bottle of water. Roll, roll, roll away…

How I brightened my post-race mood--and filled some hours previously spent running

Make alternate plans. After the high of crossing the finish line subsides, it’s natural to feel some post-race blues. You’d been looking forward to, and training for, your big races for months, and now it’s over. Instead of throwing yourself immediately into a new training cycle (see above), find some non-running ways to fill your time. Go see that new Oscar-worthy movie everyone is raving about; head to the pumpkin patch with your kids (once your legs let you bend down to pick a pumpkin!); sort through your winter clothes and put away your summer ones. After returning from the Disneyland Half last month, I found cleaning out our freezer incredibly therapeutic; this past weekend, I used my “extra” time to plant daffodil bulbs.

Cross-train. Now is a great time to do that Bikram yoga class your friend has been raving about or to shake your moneymaker at a Zumba class. I’m considering taking boot camp three days/week instead of my usual two. Make the most of your freedom now that you not tied down to a training plan!

Then…start plotting your next race. Another 26.2, or shift to busting a move in the 5K? Maybe you’ll decide to focus exclusively on halfsies. There’s no right or wrong answer after a big race. After taking last week completely off, I’m jumping into Week 5 of the Half-Marathon: Own It plan from Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line - and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity. The plan is to pull two pals to a sub-2:00 finish at Portland’s Holiday Half.

Now, share with us: How do you recuperate and recover after an epic race?

21 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: Recovery after a Half-Marathon or Marathon

  1. I am going to take seven days off after my marathon. I’m on day two so the soreness is starting to leave but I know in my heart that even if I feel normal in a couple days it’s best to wait.

    For my first marathon I hated running for two months. I forced myself to do it and I can remember how miserable those five milers were even a month post race. In hindsight it’s probably because I didn’t give myself enough time to recover.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! My friend and I ran the You Go Girl! half marathon in September and, determined not to lose all we had gained, went right back to our normal running schedule immediately after the race. I found myself sick and exhausted a week after that. I’m so glad to hear it’s okay to take a few days off after a big race. Thank you!

  3. Thank you! man, I’m NOT good at taking breaks. I had major trail withdrawal. Is walking your 3 year old super slow in the running buggy ok. It’s fall and my heart & soul are not the same if I don’t hit the trail. I’m so bad a rest.

  4. I also ran Twin Cities Marathon October 7 and took the longest time off after a marathon by choice (previously, I had been injured going into my marathons and was forced to rest afterwards). For that week after the race, I actually didn’t want to run (hmmm, the pain in the quads when squatting down to the potty squelched my joy of pounding the pavement). I agree with SBS that waiting at least a week now has made me feel back to my old self…eager and ready to go…even signing up last minute for the Twin Cities Monster Dash 10 mile in a week from now…

  5. Ice bath, compression socks (usually worn overnight), BEER. I’ll take a few days off, and then run a very slow 12:30-13:30 pace 3-4 miler as my first run back. After my Half next week I plan to take 2 weeks pretty easy (though I do have a 10K planned 15 days after… so not quite sure how to prepare for that – or if it’s just going to be a ‘fun run’ for me…

  6. After running the Portland Marathon, I was more than happy to take a week off from running. It was nice to come home from work and just veg, instead of jetting out the door to run. Now I just need motivation to get back in the swing of things!

  7. I kind of gave up running after my one and only marathon. It felt like I has nothing to aim for. So I started cycling and cycled madly for years until having a baby made running fit back into my life better! So I think signing up for another race, albeit a while away, is a good way of not losing your mojo completely. Something different like a trail race or trying to do a 5k after a marathon.

  8. Really needed this! Just ran my first full on Sunday & not really sure what to do with myself now. I’m going to follow your tips!

  9. I ran Top Of Utah in September and I gotta tell you, the let down after was brutal. I was cranky and irritable and tired and had lost all motivation to do anything productive. I had to remind myself that it was okay to just chill out and that the love would come back. It did but it took some time.

    I also have been doing things that I have wanted to but have had to put off while training, extra yoga, more weight lifting, things like that.

  10. On the second day after my first half, I did one mile really slowly and came home and stretched really well (like a good yoga stretch). It put my legs in better shape to be able to walk stairs again.

  11. I have only ventured up to the half marathon but I usually give myself 4 days off for a run of 10K and I had a week off after my first half. The next week was all easy runs of less then 10K as well. Now I am on week 4 post half, training for a hafl on Nov 10th and feeling fine (knocking on wood quickly).

  12. Having done 2 marathons where I RACED (a 10 miler 8 days after the first and a 15K 6 days after the 2nd) instead of recovered, I am beyond excited to give myself a week off!!!! I had decided to do that, but this post makes it more certain that I won’t panic and run. 🙂

  13. I just finished a half on Sunday (my 4th, and my 4th PR!!), but it was part if training for my first full (EEK!) so I took Monday off, got friendly with the foam roller and trigger point balls. Today I took a cardio kickboxing class and I’m feeling much better already. Tomorrow I have 7 miles on tap, and I’m expecting to feel very strong.

  14. I finished Chicago on the 7th and have run twice since then. ( I am training a group out of my local running store) Honestly, I could use a couple of more days off and am not running this week. I am definitely going to get a massage at some point this week and I have become best friends with my foam roller. My biggest problem were the post race blues that hit on Friday. I think that I cried the entire day. I now am looking forward to another spring marathon and a couple of half marathons. The first 2-3 weeks are the hardest for me.

  15. I just finished the Chicago marathon last week and it’s amazing how much more time I feel like I have now that I’m not training for it! The house is (gasp) clean… I did’t run again for 6 days and by then I couldn’t wait to get out the door! It’s amazing what a little time off will do for you!

  16. I like to do an easy shake-out run the day after a marathon. Then I basically do my taper in reverse. I prefer staying active. I agree that you won’t lose any fitness taking a week off, but my mental health suffers and my body feels more sluggish if I stop running.

  17. I also ran a full on 10/7, took a week off from running (had a massage- which I highly reccomend!! Walked, biked a little, did a little yoga) and do an easy 3 yesterday. That was the perfect recovery for me.
    After my first full (this was my 2nd) I think I took much more time off, but then again my body had never done the distance before and I was in much worse shape immediately after. Strangely enough this full beat me up much more, but I recovered easier.
    I also would make sure to get your ice bath in as soon as you can. I had to drive home 3+ hours, but kept my legs moving in the car & got right into the bath when I got home. Even with the delay I know it helped.

  18. Thanks for the great advise on post recovery. I’m training for my first marathon that is now 4 weeks away. I will plan on taking that 7-10 days off and get some holiday sewing done. I’ve got three girls and some special fabric to create some lovely dresses for presents. Then I will be back on the road to keep my fitness going and to prepare for a few spring half marathons.

  19. Well…I’m the Janet Sarah mentioned, and after that 8 miler I was much kinder to my body the rest of the week. 🙂 Rest and recovery are the parts of a training plan where I fall miserably short, and one of my goals is to pay more attention to them so I can keep running for a long time.

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