How to Recover from a Half Marathon
The sense of accomplishment and elation can be overwhelming as you cross the finish line of your half marathon after months of diligent and consistent training. While you may want to rightfully bask in your success and rush to celebrate your achievement, you need to be aware of a few things. These are as important as the activities you did before and during the race. It is essential to focus on how to recover best from the rigors of running your race.
Recovery depends on several factors like the intensity of your run, fitness level, and age. Here are some general guidelines on how to recover well and get back to training.
First 30 minutes after crossing the finish line
Here’s what you need to do during the first 30 minutes after completing the half marathon.
Certainly, you may be tired. However, refrain from sitting down, as doing that will stiffen your muscles or seize them into a cramp. It is recommended that you keep walking for at least 10 to 20 minutes after your race. Continuous walking and moving will promote active recovery, allowing your heart to keep pumping blood to the tired muscles. Simultaneously, it helps clear the metabolic waste from your exertions over the last two or more hours of running.
Stretching your leg muscles after a half marathon can help promote blood flow to these areas. Here are some stretches that may be helpful:
- Find a wall or some support. Stand in front of it, place your left hand on it, and grab your right ankle with your right hand. Hold this stretch for your quads for 15 seconds. Repeat this for the other leg.
- Keep your hands on the wall. Now, place your right foot forward with your knee bent and your left foot back by about 2ft with your knee locked. Hold this stretch for the calf for 15 seconds. Repeat this process for the other leg.
- Stand back from the wall by facing it. Now, bend from the waist with your back straight and place both hands on the wall. You should feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds.
Hydration should be among your priorities post a race. Find the nearest aid station at the finish line and hydrate by drinking water and electrolytes. Depending on the weather and your specific tendency to sweat, you may be partially dehydrated. Aim to drink about 400ml–500ml of water along with electrolytes.
You lose sodium via sweat due to running. Therefore, it is essential to consume electrolytes or sports drinks that contain sodium along with water. Drinking only water to replace the lost fluid may increase the risk of developing hyponatremia, a condition wherein the concentration of sodium in the blood is low. The sodium in the electrolytes will help your body retain water in the intracellular and extracellular spaces instead of allowing most of it to pass off as urine.
Moreover, post-race cramps are best avoided when you hydrate well. An hour later, follow up with another 400ml–500ml of fluids. By now, you should have the urge to urinate. While urinating, check that your urine is light-colored. This will indicate that you are well-hydrated.
The body’s repair process for damaged tissues begins when you supply them with carbohydrates and protein. It is necessary to consume carbohydrate-rich foods within the first half-hour of finishing your race. Such foods will supply your body with glucose to restock your lost glycogen reserves and boost your ability to come out of fatigue. Items like fruit juice, banana, biscuits, bread, and jam are best for this purpose.
Within two hours of finishing the race, eat a meal or snack that is a combination of carbohydrates and protein in a ratio of 3:1. This meal will kick start the process of repair and building muscle tissues.
30 minutes to one hour after crossing the finish line
Here’s what you should do during this duration:
You can visit a nearby washroom and splash water on your face, arms, and legs. Use a wet napkin to access areas on your torso to wipe away the sweat. It is suggested to immediately have a shower and change into clean clothes, as prolonged exposure to sweat coupled with warm bodily fluids may increase the risk of infections.
Rest of the day
After reaching home, take a cool or warm shower depending on what you find more relaxing. Eat another meal that comprises grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meat or plant-based protein. Keep hydrating to ensure proper digestion of the meal.
You may rest for short periods and get off the couch or bed to walk around periodically. Get up every hour and move around to avoid any stiffness in your muscles. Also, schedule a light massage, such as a Swedish massage, and follow this with a steam bath to rejuvenate the body.
Stay well-hydrated all day long, go to bed early, and sleep well at night. Plan to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep.
Avoid any strenuous physical activities such as running or strength training. However, a gentle walk for 20–30 minutes can help activate your sore muscles. Take a long warm shower or soak in a hot tub. You can also use Epsom salts in a warm bath, as some studies have shown that it helps reduce soreness.
Rest of the week
Continue to eat a healthy diet throughout the week. Taking a complete break from physical activities may prove to be counterproductive. So, it is advisable to perform low-impact workouts like walking. You can also indulge in other low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, or yoga.
It is important that you ease back into your running routine. When you begin running, start at an easy pace. Do not worry if your performance is not at the same level as it was in the weeks leading up to your race. If you feel any pain or soreness, it is better to walk rather than run.
Ease back into training
You may continue to do easy-paced runs for the next two–three weeks. Avoid intense workouts during this duration. Incorporate two runs during the mid-week that are 45–60 minutes long and add a 60 to 75-minute long run on the weekend. Gradually, add more time or distance to your runs and begin building your mileage for the next one to two months.
Decide your plan for the next half marathon and create a schedule for it. This is the ideal time to work on your weak points such as gait or stride rate, or strength or flexibility. You may even analyze your race and make notes of the areas that you need to work on.
Racing can be taxing, both physically and mentally. So, you need to make recovery an important aspect of your fitness and training. Allowing your body and mind to recover well following a race will help you avoid mental burnout, and help your body be better prepared for the next running goal.