You trained for months and then gave it your all in your most recent half marathon. However, whether or not you ran a PR, training doesn’t stop after you cross the finish line! Once you finish the race, you need to know how to recover after a half marathon.
As runners, it’s easy to emphasize the active part of training: running. I love to run, no matter what type of run: the challenge of long runs, the feeling of flying during speed work, the simple joy of an easy run. Running energizes me, helps me be more productive, and relieves my stress. I love running alone because it gives me some quiet “me” time, and I love running with my husband because it sneaks in some “us” time before the work day starts. I enjoy analyzing mile splits and training for a new goal.
However, sometimes running isn’t just about running. Sometimes it’s about the opposite: recovering and resting.
How to Recover After a Half Marathon
Recovery is an essential part of running, especially for runners who train for full and half marathons. We put our bodies through three or four months of high mileage, speed work, strength training, foam rolling, and watching our nutrition, and then push ourselves right to the edge of our limits for 13.1 or 26.2 miles. I know many runners, including myself, starting thinking about their new goals and next race the moment they cross the finish line. However, in order to make the most of our training, reach our new goals, and continue our love of running, we as runners must emphasize recovery after races.
Running and racing are both physically and mentally demanding, and too much can lead to both physical and mental burnout. Recovery acts as a reset button as it allows your body to fully heal from the race. Your muscles endured several microtears, you put a lot of pounding on your feet, and you depleted your glycogen stores; these can only be healed by rest and should be fully repaired before you resume running. Knowing the right way of how to recover after a half marathon will heal your muscles, replenish your glycogen, and prepare you for your next cycle of training.
Pushing yourself before your muscles, joints, and energy stores have repaired will set you up for injury or burnout later. Additionally, it gives your mind a brief break from running. You’re sure to come back from week or two break from running excited to run again! Recovering from a half marathon or full marathon requires discipline to make yourself rest, but even the elites take a complete break from running for one to two weeks after a race.
Four to seven days may seem like a long time to take a break from running—you’re probably worried about losing hard-earned fitness. However, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur anywhere from 24-72 hours after a race. By waiting at least four or five days before you resume running, you avoid adding further stress and fatigue to your muscles. You will only lose a minor about of fitness, which you will easily gain back once you start running again. Consider a week or two week recovery period as an investment in your future training.
Yoga is an excellent activity during your recovery period. You should avoid vigorous power yoga or an intense Bikram sweat session, which will be too hard on your body. Instead, try simple poses that stretch and gently strengthen your muscles, loosen your joints, and increase your circulation. You can try at at-home recovery yoga routine in the days after a race to help you feel like new again by the time you resume running.
How to Recover after a Half Marathon: Sample Plan
Sunday: Race day!
Monday: Yoga, foam rolling, and walking
Tuesday: Yoga and/or cross-training
Wednesday: Gentle strength training or cross-training
Thursday: Yoga and/or cross-training
Friday: Easy 3-5 mile run (if you feel ready)
Saturday: Easy 3-5 mile run or rest
Monday: Easy 4-6 mile run and foam roll
Tuesday: Easy 5-7 mile run
Wednesday: Easy 4-5 mile run and foam roll
Thursday: Yoga and strength training
Friday: Easy 3-4 mile run
Saturday: 8-9 mile run and foam roll
You want to emphasize easy runs, which require minimal recovery, during the recovery period. There’s no need to add any additional fatigue to your muscles! Additionally, you want to ease yourself back into your baseline training mileage.
Recovery expands beyond the couple weeks after a race. If you race regularly in the spring, summer, and fall months, or just finished a big fall race, consider taking an “off season” from racing. Spend the winter months focusing on base building (which is usually less miles and less intensity than race training) so that you can begin your spring training with a strong aerobic base and no injuries.
Use this time to do cross-training activities like swimming, cycling, and strength training and consider running less days than you did in your training cycle if you are prone to injury (so if you ran five days in training, run four days and make the fifth day a cross-training day). You don’t want to burn yourself out by constantly training for one goal race after another. Recovery periods are essential to progressing as a runner and achieving your personal best!
As a coach, I guide all of my athletes through the complete training process, including post-race recovery. Learn more about my coaching services and contact me to start training today here! And if you’re done with your race but looking to stay motivated during the off-season, consider signing up for my training group! You will receive individualized training at a budget-friendly cost, plus the support of a group!
How do you recover after a half marathon?