Recovering After Your First Half Marathon: Our Runners' Best Tips

Planning to run a half marathon? So you’ve decided to run the distance. 13.1 miles is a long way to run! You have chosen a plan, laid it out in front of you and are doing the work to get yourself to the start line healthy and ready to roll. Assuming you have done all the right things to have a good race, what happens next? What about half marathon recovery?First, let’s discuss how to set yourself up for an excellent race. How you race will help to determine recovery.

Racing & Finishing Healthy

If you want to put yourself in the best possible position to run (and show up at the finish line) healthy, there are some things to consider. As you train, don’t skimp on workouts. Of course, you don’t have to be married to your training plan. However, you also can’t skip workout after workout and expect race day to go well.

running half marathon

So assuming you’re doing the work, another thing to consider is doing some pre-race day pace work. You don’t want to go out way too fast or even too slowly. If you want the best race day, you should anticipate what pace you wish to run on race day and work from there.

You should think about your pre-race carb loading as well as what fuel and hydration you will use on race day. You don’t want to assume that whatever is offered on the course will work well for your body.

Assuming everything on race day goes great, you toe the line healthy and you finish strong. Many people don’t consider what comes next.

What Happens to Your Body After a Half Marathon?

The first point to make is it matters how you run the half marathon. If you have trained at an easy pace and go out and run 13.1 on race day, you might find yourself experiencing some body changes. However, if you are an experienced runner and in addition to mileage, you hammered speed workouts with the intention of pushing your body to the limits and racing the distance, your body will feel more distressed post-race.

Another point is the type of course you are racing on. If it is a very hilly course, for example, and you trained mostly on flat terrain, your body will be more impacted post-race.

Other points to consider is the temperature on race day. If you are traveling to a destination race in the dead of winter, think about where you are going. If you trained in a northern area and travel to a warm climate the temperature can vary by as much as 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This will take a lot out of your body!

Common Post Half-Marathon Runner Complaints

  • Blisters – You might end the race with blisters on your feet, especially if it rains on race day.
  • Bruises – Some runners also get bruising on feet. This especially happens on trail races where you might step onto rocks. Consider a trail-specific running shoe if racing a half marathon on a trail.
  • Black Toenails – No matter how perfectly you think your shoes fit, some people end distance runs and races with black toenails, or even lose a toenail.
  • Muscle Inflammation – Your muscles will react to racing that far. Prepare for some soreness.
  • Terrain Specific Discomfort – If the course is very hilly, you might find your quads and hamstrings are extra sore.
  • Minor Injuries – It is always possible to get injured while running. Some common runner injuries are calf cramps, muscle strains, shin splints or plantar fasciitis.

Half Marathon Recovery

After your race, don’t forget how important it is to refuel your body including adequate hydration. It is easy to fall into the trap of joining up with friends and celebrating, but not properly thanking your body for what it just accomplished for you.

Fueling up with a good source of protein and carbohydrates is the first step. Next, be sure you are restoring your electrolytes. Especially if your exertion was on a particularly warm day.

post race meal for runners

While your body is still warm, a cool down and some stretching is in order. It can be hard to consider going for even a light jog after a race, especially in a crowded finish chute. At the very least get some walking in.

What Should I Do The Week After a Half Marathon?

The first rule of thumb to remember is to take it easy for one day for every mile you raced. Notice we didn’t say rest. You can still run and engage in other forms of workouts. You just shouldn’t be running hard immediately after.

It is never a bad idea to treat yourself to a sports massage after a taxing effort. Some massage therapists specialize in this and can give you just what your body needs.

Foam rolling is another great way to aid in your own recovery. You can foam roll all muscles but pay particular attention to calves, hamstrings, quads and the hip flexor. Set aside 10 minutes a day for this for at least a week after a big race.

Continue to refuel properly as your body recovers. Consider some non-impact exercise if your feet are bruised, blistered or you have black toenails.

Your runs should be easier than normal for a while. If after a week your body feels better, then you can add in a little more vigorous of a workout.

How Long Should You Rest After Running a Half Marathon?

This is a difficult question because it is so individualized. Some athletes do not rest at all post half marathon because the half is part of a greater scheme. If someone is marathon training the plan often incorporates “race a half marathon” into the plan as a gear up race. For these individuals, the training does not even skip a beat.

runner resting

Other people have the half as the culminating race but they still continue to run. This is not a bad plan either. Still, other athletes are streak runners so they would not even think of taking a rest day. Not for sickness, nor for injury or even after a hard race.

Many people take a day or two of complete rest before running again, then they try an easy run. Other people do non-impact cross training for a few days. Truth be told, there are no right answers. Really, it all depends on what your larger goals are.

What is the Fastest Way to Recover From a Half Marathon?

When contemplating half marathon recovery there are some things you can do to ensure you recover quickly. The first aspect is just setting yourself up for success through proper training and nutrition. Post-race, you should be sure to refuel in the right way with protein and carbs, as well as proper hydration. Spending some time cooling down and then gently stretching will keep your body happy after a long run and using the foam roller is always a good idea.

In addition to that, you should listen to your body. If you wake up super sore the next day consider a bike ride instead of a jog. Maybe make an appointment for a massage and go for a walk instead of an actual workout.

If you are smart in your recovery, you will be ready to pop back into your training in no time at all!


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