How to Recover After Running a Marathon

You’ve done it, you completed the marathon! You’re feeling that runner’s high and want to sign up to another straight away! But you feel those post-race aches and stiffness coming on. Find out how to give your body the best chance at recovering so you can keep running, pain-free.

What you do in the days following a marathon is just as important as what you did before. 

It’s no secret that running 26.2 miles puts a lot of demand on the body and, as well as your shiny race medal, you’re likely to end up with:

  • depleted fuel stores
  • accumulated fluid in the muscles
  • dehydration
  • perhaps some damaged muscle tissue

This body of yours has just carried you from the start to the finish line, as well as on all the runs in preparation before it, so it’s important to be aware that your body will be more susceptible to injury or infection than usual, and it needs some care and attention. 

Having a recovery plan is essential for marathon runners to both take on these kind of challenges, and then keep running afterwards. 

We appreciate how much running means to so many people and we want to ensure that you can do that for as long as possible, as frequently as you want, pain and injury free. 

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How can I help my body recover? #

We recommend a recovery plan made of just 3 easy steps:

  1. Sleep
  2. Re-fuel
  3. Soft Tissue Therapy

Now, there’s no magic formula for calculating how long your body will take to recover – everybody’s recovery time will be different, individual, because it’s as individual as we are.

For example, a seasoned marathon runner, or someone whose training plan included a high mileage base, can expect to bounce back quicker than someone who has just ran their first marathon. 

That’s not to say it will be plain-sailing, but it is common to recover more quickly if your body is well prepared and conditioned specifically for the physical exertion you are asking of it.

In all cases, sleep, re-fuelling and Soft Tissue Therapy can help marathon runners recover as it is the practice of looking after the tissues that make up your muscles. 

Sleep is the body’s natural way of healing. So, we recommend taking a nap later on, after the race, on top of your regular 8 hours at night. 

Re-fuelling helps to replenish nutrients and liquids lost during training or the race, so go and enjoy those post-race carbohydrates and rehydration fluids! 

Imagine for a second, you’re cooking some porridge for breakfast. You heat up the milk and add the porridge and you stir, and stir, and stir, to keep the porridge from sticking. Now imagine you take the porridge off the heat and don’t stir it anymore. The porridge starts to become cold; it begins to solidify, and it becomes harder to stir the spoon through. 

After increased training load or an event this is what’s happening. Reduced circulation, decreased heat, dehydration, increased inflammation and increased secretion of waste products within the muscles all lead to fatigue, stiffness and soreness. 

Soft Tissue Therapy works to reduce these symptoms. Encouraging the muscles fibres to process these effects means less aches, stiffness and rigidity for you to wait out’. It’s being active in your own recovery.

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What are the benefits of Soft Tissue Therapy for marathon runners? #

Reduced muscle soreness #

Soft Tissue Therapy sessions help to reduce any soreness or aches you may be feeling as a result of the race. This is because it increases circulation, assisting the body’s ability to flush out waste products’ built up in the muscles after exercise which, if left untreated, causes aches and stiffness.

Reduced inflammation #

After significant exertion, your muscles may have some inflammation, and this can be reduced by Soft Tissue Therapy treatment.

There may be some inflammation in and around your muscle fibres after pushing your body to its maximum effort. Soft tissue therapy works to remove inflammation by improving the body’s circulation and lymphatic drainage capabilities. 

Improved mobility #

Because muscle tension and stiffness is reduced by soft tissue therapy, your mobility and range of movement is increased as a result as well. This means you’re more likely to run with your normal, correct form, which allows you to run to the best of your ability and walk about without injury. Without this you run the risk of running without your correct form if you are overcompensating for tight or sore muscles leading to potential injuries.

Reduced stress #

Running and exercise in general has been shown to lower stress levels because your brain releases endorphins when your body exercises. This chemical makes you feel good and as a result your stress levels are lowered.

Marathon running, and a lot of the preparation, takes place outdoors and getting outside has proven to be great for lowering stress levels because (depending on where you are running) you get plenty of fresh air and you’re often surrounded by nature and benefitting from the connection to the earth and elements.

Soft tissue therapy can also help to reduce stress and increase mood by stimulating the feel good hormones, endorphins, as well as stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation. 

Reduced pain

When you’re running you may feel niggles or pain develop. This could be for many reasons, however the result is pain and we certainly don’t want that. First thing is to see a Physiotherapist to determine if there is an injury at play here so they can prescribe a course of rehab treatment.

Soft Tissue Therapy helps identify areas of tightness caused by compensations when running. Those niggles or pains you may feel are your body’s warning signs. Don’t wait until pain is constant, listen to your body and see a medical professional so you can make sure to prevent any further pain or injury.

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When to get a soft tissue massage #

At this stage you may be thinking, sign me up! Which then comes with the very natural question of when should I get a soft tissue massage?’. Believe it or not there is an optimal time to do this, and you can structure it around your training program. In fact, the pro’s will always have a soft tissue massage element to their training plans because it is so useful for preparation and recovery. 

We generally advice the below:

  • 1 – 3 days post marathon — a light flushing massage
  • 3 – 5 days post marathon — Deep Tissue massage

However, to know when is best for you, your body, and how to fit it in around your current training plan, it is best to speak to a therapist who can advise you specifically. 

Can I skip the Soft Tissue Therapy and use at-home supports and techniques instead? #

There are things you can do at home to support your training and recovery, such as:

  • using massage aids or devices, such as a foam roller, the stick, a massage ball, or a Theragun/​massage gun
  • taking cold/​hot baths after the marathon and long training runs
  • getting regular and qualitative sleep
  • incorporating a structured nutrition plan to support recovery

Whilst these tools can assist and support you they do not produce the same results as an individual soft tissue therapy session tailored exactly to your needs. 

It is always best to consult a Soft Tissue Therapist before using any devices you are not familiar with as you want to make sure what you’re doing is helping, not hurting. 

So, the very best of luck to all you marathon runners and lovers out there! This addictive sport is a wonderful and very fulfilling challenge, and we just want you to get the most out of it and have fun along the way! 

If you are training for a marathon and would like some soft tissue therapy treatment or support, click the button below to get in touch with our team of expert therapists today. 

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