How to recover after your first half marathon
How quickly you are back in action after a half marathon depends on a few key aspects of post-half marathon recovery. A week after the NYC Half, my first half marathon many years ago, I bounced back to training while still feeling thrilled by the amazing race.
Being able to start training again 100%, only 6 days after a half marathon, is great for your morale. It also means you know how to rest and how to recover correctly.
If you’re running a half marathon, you train your butt off for the upcoming race. You know exactly what to eat the night before – and how much you need to drink days in advance – but do you really know how to recover from a half marathon? I was able to do a leg workout 2 days after the NYC Half and I’m sharing my secrets with you on how to recover perfectly to get back to training as fast as you can.
To shorten your half marathon recovery time, even after the most grueling race, you need to do a lot of these 2 simple things:
- Restore your nutrient levels by eating correctly
- Get plenty of rest
- Take your supplements for runners to support your recovery
I will also explore the benefits of compression socks and elevating your legs, my take on active recovery, and some important advice to consider. Read on!
Step # 1: What should I eat after a half marathon?
Good news! Recovery starts with carbs. And as we all know, carbs are tasty. You ran the entire 13+ miles, so you undoubtedly deserve them, but did you know they are essential for recovery?
Carb-loading is an important aspect of running a successful race, but neglecting them post-half marathon would be a recovery mistake.
After the event, you should work on restoring depleted glycogen stores by getting enough carbohydrates and protein. This means about 4 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight.
This fluctuates with body type, but for the most part, you will want to eat a balance of carbs, protein, and of course get your leafy greens, fruits, and supplements. Make sure you get your electrolytes as well!
After you get proper amounts of carbs, continue to hydrate, and make sure you are also eating well-balanced meals that contain plenty of fiber and protein. My protein intake has helped me recover much faster after the half marathon this year.
Step # 2: REST UP! RECOVER AFTER A HALF MARATHON LIKE A PRO
I always recommend (for the casual type of runner) plenty of rest on days two and three after your race: It’s important to allow your body to take a break from exercise. Your muscles need adequate time to rest and recover from the physical exertion of running more than 13 miles.
I remember the first morning after the NYC half marathon: It felt like I just got hit by a car. My whole body felt so heavy, tight and sore. It was so hard to get out of bed. One of my running buddies lives very close to my house – while I was walking to the bus the next morning I saw him running.
Crazy? Or the right thing to do? I’d say it depends… He is a super experienced runner – ran pro level for years and knows his body very well. I sent him a “You’re crazy” text after I saw him. His response was: “Sabrina, it’s a recovery week.
I only did 3 miles of jogging” My day after the race was a rest day. For him, a recovery run was the right thing to do though. You should listen to your body and find out what works best for you. Sometimes when you’re really sore a slow recovery run does magic to your legs.
ADDITIONAL ADVICE AND STEPS
Eating right and resting well might seem like obvious steps for fatigue management and getting closer to healthy running again, but they are commonly neglected. Because it can be hard to take a break after such a long time of training, sticking to a proper rest and nutrition plan is essential.
There are other things to consider as well when recovering from a half marathon, such as compression socks, elevating your legs, active recovery, and not jumping too quickly into exercising again.
COMPRESSION SOCKS AND ELEVATING YOUR LEGS
For the first 48 hours after your race, compression socks are beneficial for recovering quickly. These socks will reduce swelling and improve your circulation, leading to more oxygen flow for the muscles that need it most.
There’s a lot of conclusive evidence that compression socks can improve muscle recovery for runners.
Another tip to consider: elevate your legs with a huge stack of pillows for a while. Some runners swear on their ice bath after a half marathon. Not my thing, but I’ve heard it helps with the upcoming soreness.
Propping your legs up also helps prevent post-race collapse by preventing the pooling of blood in the lower extremities. Generally speaking, it makes recovery a much more comfortable endeavor. Do what helps you the most and makes you feel most comfortable while resting!
ACTIVE RECOVERY AFTER A HALF MARATHON?
When it comes to active recovery shortly after a half marathon, going for a run can actually be disadvantageous for recovery. According to a study conducted on 46 half marathon runners, scientists found that active recovery was one of the worst ways to quickly return to form. They concluded that massage and cold water immersion were best.
Only the most physically fit, conditioned runners can immediately get back to training after a few days. Generally, you should not push your body beyond light stretching and some brisk walking. With the right nutrition and rest, you can be back on your feet in no time.
MY PERSONAL TAKE: How many days should you rest after a half marathon?
My first run after the NYC half was with a client on Tuesday. We ran 3 miles in a 10:00 min/mile – that was my recovery run. At night it was time for a leg workout.
By focussing on my quads I was still able to let my hamstrings rest a little longer. Yes, 2 days after a half marathon I hit the gym. My energy wasn’t 100% but it just felt so good to set my legs on fire again. If you’re running only and are not having an extra focus on building muscle mass you can still rest or run super slow those days. But since I didn’t work out my legs for over a week at the gym I just had to go.
I know I’m not the best example, but let me tell you the real rule of thumb is to take one day of rest for every mile you run. So for a half marathon, you can plan on allowing nearly two weeks for a full recovery.
Days six and seven, and the entire second week, should be all about gradually introducing your body back to moderate amounts of exercise while allowing for plenty of rest.
Everybody feels different and you should listen to your body. It’s about training smarter – not harder – after a half marathon. Recovery after a half marathon is a serious business. Whether you’re an elite or a casual runner, there’s no question about it; 13.1 miles is a substantial effort.
What are your recovery tips after a half marathon? Leave your tips in the comments! Do you want to beat your personal best in your next race? Let me guide you!
Last Updated on 6. January 2022 by Sabrina Wieser
Sabrina Wieser is a running expert based in New York City and the founder of Runningbrina - She is a USATF Level 3 and IAAF Level 5 Endurance Certified Coach and experienced marathon runner. She completed over 35 long-distance races and helped over 200 clients to cross their personal finish line. Her expertise in enhancing running performance through training and nutrition has been recognized by many within the running community and different media outlets such as Huffington Post, the Dr Oz Show and adidas running.
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