Marathon Recovery from Finish Line Onward

How to Start Your Recovery at the Marathon Finish Line

Marathon Finishers with Water and Heat Sheets
Hero Images/Getty Images

Marathon Recovery Starts at the Finish - Eat, Drink, Keep Moving

  • Take the Space Blanket they Hand You: Your body will cool down swiftly even if you were overheated coming into the finish. Use the heat sheet they give you so you don't have a sudden body temperature drop and collapse.
  • Keep Moving if You Can: Keep walking slowly around the finish area as you snack and drink up. Walk for at least another 15 minutes so your muscles do not knot you up into a pretzel.
  • Drink and Snacks - Immediate Marathon Recovery Foods: The best time to restore your muscle energy and fluids is immediately. Drink sports drink and water, avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can dehydrate you further. If you haven't urinated within 6 hours following the marathon, seek medical help, you may have had kidney shutdown. Eat some high carbohydrate snacks and salty snacks. Potassium sources such as bananas are good. Caution: many people experience nausea after finishing.
  • Massage: Gentle massage is good, but avoid vigorous stretching as your muscles are already overworked and damaged.
  • Dry Clothes: Getting into clean, dry clothes will help stop you losing body heat.

Marathon Injuries That Need Medical Attention

  • The Medical Tent: Obey the medical team at the Finish Line. If they think you need help or observation, you do, no arguments. Your brain is fried, and they are the ones who know what they are doing.
  • Dehydration and Hyponatremia: If you have passed the point of no return for these conditions, the medical team may start an IV and will monitor you until you can urinate. In severe cases, you may be transported to the hospital. If treating yourself, drink a salt-replacement sports drink and salty snacks rather than plain water. Slow marathoners, such as walkers, are the group most at risk for hyponatremia. Symptoms of Dehydration and Hyponatremia
  • Sprains and Strains: If a joint is red and swollen and sharply painful, it is beyond mere overexertion. It is now time for RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. You may end up needing medical attention for a stress fracture or other serious injury.
  • Don't Be Alone: You may experience fainting, gray-outs, etc. after the marathon. You should not drive alone or be alone for the first 12 hours. You need a buddy after the marathon to monitor you for medical problems. Even if you are a medical professional yourself, you have no judgment after the marathon; you need somebody else to do that. Symptoms of stroke and heartbeat irregularities are especially serious. Disturbances in your body salt level during the marathon (hyponatremia) can trigger heartbeat problems and perhaps lead to sudden death. People can and do die alone in their hotel rooms after the marathon.

Recovery at Home Immediately After the Marathon

  • The Ride Home: Plan your trip back home to reduce the time spent sitting in one position or you may be too stiff to get out of the vehicle. If you are traveling home by airplane, give yourself a day to unkink before taking the flight.
  • Move Another 15 Minutes: After you get home, plan another 10-15 minutes of slow walking to keep your body from freezing up.
  • Cool Shower or Epsom Salts Soak: No hot tub for you! A hot bath may further damage already lactic acid-soaked muscles. A lukewarm bath or shower is good. Use a whole box of Epsom Salts in a lukewarm bath for a body soak to help relieve pain and soreness.
  • Celebration Meal - Marathon Recovery Food: A high carb meal with protein will give your body the fuel to start recovering. This is the time for the pasta party! Avoid alcohol - if you really must have a toast, a low alcohol or no-alcohol beer is the safest choice. Continue to drink sports drink, fruit juices, water throughout the evening.
  • Pain Relievers: Once you know your kidneys are working, now you can take your pain reliever of choice.
  • Doctor the Blisters and Pains: Use good sterile technique to drain any tense blisters. How to Treat a Blister
  • To Bed!: You may sleep like the dead, or you may have difficulty sleeping due to pain and stiffness, but sleep is the time the body best repairs itself. Nap and sleep after the marathon.

Recovery the Week After the Marathon

  • Wear Your Medal and Shirt: You deserve to be celebrated, don't be shy about wearing your finishers shirt and even your medal to work or school the next day. I decided not to do so for a conference the next day, and arrived to find a doctor there wearing HER finishers shirt! Other marathoners will be happy for the chance to congratulate you and to regale you with their own experiences. You will be a role model to all of your friends and family.
  • Post-Marathon Blues: You will probably feel exhausted and depressed the week after the marathon. This is normal, expect it and plan for it. It goes away as you recover. Many people experiences this, and we have advice on how to deal with the post-race blues. If it doesn't, seek medical help as the chemical changes in your body and brain could have tipped you over into clinical depression, which is a dangerous and life-threatening condition that can be reversed if caught early. Depression
  • Stiff and Sore: Expect muscles that you didn't know you had to hurt. As you tired during the marathon, your posture and gait changed so that surprising muscles got strained. The pain may be delayed, expect it to pop up for the next 2-4 days.
  • Massage: I schedule a relaxing professional 1-hour sports massage for the day after the marathon, and I have found it relieves almost all of the muscle pain and stiffness I used to get. Gentle massage is key - you want it to loosen up the knots and stiff muscles, but not to damage them further.
  • Marathon Recovery Food and Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet, your body will need carbs and protein and nutrients to rebuild damaged muscles. Do not resume a weight loss diet until after the first week. If you have cravings, indulge them moderately. Your body may be telling you what it is missing. It may be missing veggies, fruits, and fish, but I doubt it's missing more than one serving of chocolate cake. Moderation!
  • Weight Gain Post-Marathon?: I always note a 2-4 pound weight gain immediately after the marathon, likely from water retention as your muscles repair and rebuild. Do not panic and start dieting, eat a balanced diet with enough nutrients to rebuild and repair your body. The bloat weight will probably come off within a week unless you have been overindulging in eating. But don't start or resume weight loss dieting for a week.
  • Resuming Your Walking: If you have blisters, your gait will be thrown off until they are healed, so limit your walking to 15-30 minutes at a time until they are healed. Your walks should be at a gentle pace, use them simply to loosen up the stiff muscles.
  • No Long Walks for 1 Week: Even if your feet are in good shape, limit your walks to under an hour the first week as you recover.
  • Sleep: Your body builds muscle and repairs itself while sleeping. Get lots of sleep after the marathon.

Full Marathon Recovery Phase

  • Getting Back Into Walking: Experts say to give yourself 4-6 weeks of recovery after a marathon before resuming any intense training or racing. I generally enjoy a 10K walk the weekend after the marathon, but you may want to limit yourself to an hour-long walk after the first week, saving the 10K for the second weekend after the marathon.
  • Recovery Food, Nutrition and Diet: While recovering, you are likely walking fewer miles than during marathon training. After the first recovery week, adjust your calories according to your activity levels. You may have to track your food intake and adjust it if you begin to gain weight due to less activity. As always, eat a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruits, and other whole, nutritious foods.
  • Crosstraining: Balance your walking with other fun and healthy activities such as biking, swimming, strength training, core and balance training.

Next: Training for Your Next Half Marathon or Marathon: Periodization


Burke LM, Millet G, Tarnopolsky MA; International Association of Athletics Federations.. "Nutrition for distance events." J Sports Sci. 2007;25 Suppl 1:S29-38.

American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine, Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. "American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):709-31. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31890eb86.

Continue Reading