Congratulations on completing your half marathon! It’s important to recover after a half marathon.
Whether it was your first or seventh race, there are steps you can take to reduce muscle soreness, rebuild your body’s fuel supply, and get back to your normal running and fitness routine sooner rather than later.
There are different ways to rest and recover after a half marathon. Whatever you do, it’s important to give your body a good rest after such a high impact event.
Your body probably suffered a lot of micro tears to muscles and your glycogen stores will be low, if not depleted.
Whilst your body is amazing and is capable of some amazing things like running a half marathon, remember to give it time to rest to avoid burnout or injury.
There’s no shame in taking a break from it all for a few days. Here are my top tips on how to recover after a half marathon.
How to recover after a half marathon
Stay hydrated in the days after the event.
Drink lots of water throughout the day and consider including an energy sports drink to aid glycogen levels.
If you’re not a big fan of litres of tap water, try adding some fresh fruit like cucumber, lemon or strawberries to add some flavour.
You will have lost a lot of fluids during the race through sweat, so it’s important to replenish the fluid levels in your body.
Fuel your body
Eat 2-3 meals a day and keep snacking! Try and get some good sources of protein, carbs and fats in your meals.
Protein – lean meat and fish, eggs, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes, tofu.
Carbohydrates – sweet potatoes, white potatoes, brown rice, rye bread, wholemeal bread, beans and lentils, quinoa, pumpkin, butternut squash, apples, blueberries, bananas, strawberries.
Fats – avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, salmon, mackerel, nuts, chia seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, full fat yoghurt.
You’ll want to replenish all the energy stores that you lost during the half marathon. Protein is also an essential macronutrient when it comes to muscle repair and recovery.
The temptation is to sit down after a half marathon and watch a heap load of Netflix (I know I fall into this trap).
It’s good to keep moving so your muscles don’t seize up.
Go for a gentle walk every hour or so or keep moving around your house.
The stiffness and pain you are feeling in your muscles could be delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMs for short). This is normally felt 24 to 72 hours after exercise.
The impact of running the half marathon has caused tiny, microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. Your body responds to this by increasing inflammation, which causes the pain and discomfort.
Hitting the couch will only worsen the pain and stiffness, so keep moving as much as possible.
A massage is also a good way to relieve the pain. Static stretching has also been cited as a good preventative measure for DOMs, which I explain more about below.
Consider doing some gentle stretches to make your recovery period a little easier.
The more you stretch, the less stiff you’ll be in the morning. Yoga is also a great way to gently stretch it out.
Some good and easy static stretches to release tension in tight muscles include: forward lunge, hamstring stretch and calf raises.
These can be used as part of a cool down or done on your rest days.
Stretch until you feel a slight pull and then hold that position for 20-90 seconds.
Stretching on its own is beneficial, but be careful not to push your body too much as it can cause muscle tears to worsen.
Foam rolling is a great way to release some of that lactic acid in your muscles and delay onset muscle soreness, as explained above.
Try and foam roll at least five minutes a day in the days after your half marathon. I normally start foam rolling on day three after my half marathon as it’s simply too painful before that.
There are different types of foam rollers out there on the market that target different parts of the body from low to high density.
I’d suggest starting with a low to medium density foam roller that isn’t too intensive on your muscles.
Check out my guide on the benefits of foam rolling for runners for more info and tips.
Gently get back into running
If you want to start incorporate running back into your routine, I suggest you mix it up with walking breaks.
This will give your body adequate time to get back into the swing of things.
Of course, every one is different and only you know your body, so if you feel comfortable doing longer stints of running, then go for it!
I wouldn’t suggest you go straight back into your pre-half marathon training plan.
Unless you are training for another event, like a marathon, and the half marathon forms part of your training plan, then use this time to gently ease yourself back into longer distances.