How to recover after running a marathon: experts give tips

How to recover after running a marathon: experts give tips

Countless hours of training go into running races such as those taking place this weekend at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon. But the work doesn’t stop after you’ve crossed the finish line. The hours that follow, say experts, is when the makings of a stronger runner begin.

The high-intensity effort of racing places extra strain on our bodies compared to day-to-day running. Recovering properly after a race, whether it’s 10 kilometres or a full marathon, will get you back on your feet running sooner and with less chance of injury.

What’s more, recover right and you lay the foundations for better running. Yet recovery is one of the most overlooked areas of a runner’s training plan, says elite runner and coach Clinton Mackevicius, founder of FitKinetics.


While all runners deserve some time off, if you want to maximise your racing experience and, most importantly, intend to race in the coming weeks or months, properly planning your recovery is something you should consider seriously,” says Mackevicius, defending champion of the 10km event in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.

“I guarantee you’ll feel your legs the second you cross the line, and for up to three to five days afterwards. But how you treat your body in the hours and days after will determine how long it takes you to recover.”

Sports exercise physiologist from Joint Dynamics, Jessica Phillips, explains how the body takes a pounding when racing.

“First, your heart rate will increase to supply the muscles with more blood to support the increased oxygen demand. Next, your body temperature will increase, leading to blood vessel dilation to allow for heat loss through sweat. Through sweat loss, you will lose typically two to 10 per cent of your body weight,” she says.

As extra demands are placed on your body, your metabolism speeds up, Phillips adds, because “your body increased its energy production”.

While every runner is different, during a marathon, a typical runner who weighs 59kg will burn about 2,200 calories, while a 75kg runner will burn about 2,800 calories, she says.

Over the course of the race, your body’s natural storage of energy, known as glycogen, will decrease – perhaps even be completely depleted – requiring the body to break down fat stores for energy. Your muscles also take a hammering.

“Running a marathon takes between 30,000 to 50,000 steps. Each step produces a stress of three to four times your body weight on your ankles, knees and hips. This stress will result in muscle damage in the form of microtears and inflammation, resulting in stiffness post-race.”

Follow our guide to support your post-race recovery.

Up to 30 minutes after crossing the finish line

“As strange as it sounds, it’s important to keep moving after you step over the finish line,” says Mackevicius.

Luckily, the set-up at the finish is designed to force you into recovery mode as you have to collect your finisher medal, some drink and food, and also your gear bag that you checked in pre-race.

The first 30 minutes is an important window in which to restore your body’s glycogen and replenish protein, says nutritionist Tanja Guigon-Rech from Nutrition Nation. “Picture the body as a house and protein as bricks. When an athlete participates in a marathon, the bricks become loose, get damaged or fall out. Following a marathon, a runner needs to repair or replace these bricks as soon as possible,” she says.

She advises runners to drink 2 to 3 cups of water (around 750ml in total) and eat a small snack of between 100 and 400 calories, depending on your body weight, containing carbohydrates and proteins in a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio. Guigon-Rech says a great snack could be a banana with peanut butter.

30 minutes to three hours

Mackevicius suggests a cool down. “All elite runners cool down after racing with a light jog of approximately 15 minutes, followed by stretching. Non-elite athletes can substitute the jog with walking.”

A 10-minute massage post-run will help, but Mackevicius recommends getting a full massage later that night or the next day. “In the meantime, get yourself into some compression gear like socks or tights as soon as you can, as this will increase blood flow to the damaged muscles.”

It’s also important to continue hydrating. “A good indicator that your body is hydrated is by using the pee test. Once your urine is close to clear, you know your body is rehydrated,” he says.

For those who’ve run the half or full marathon, this is an important period for refuelling, says Guigon-Rech. “Runners should eat more protein of around 200 to 300 calories. Perfect snacks are plain yogurt, protein bars, protein shake or protein-based snacks such as those with chicken, fish, beef or eggs.”

Day one to week one

Your immune system is vulnerable after a big race, and your nutrition during this time is vital, says Guigon-Rech. “Ideally, a runner will consume highly nutritious foods full of vitamins, complex carbohydrates and proteins. In order to avoid falling sick and ensuring quick muscle repair, it’s imperative for runners to eat fresh fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein, and to take vitamin supplements.”

Although some suggest doing a recovery run the day after, Mackevicius says it’s not necessary. “You actually do more damage than good if you run with a laboured gait.”

He recommends taking three to five days off running altogether (depending on your race distance) and doing something low-impact, such as walking, cycling, swimming or a lightweight circuit in the gym.

More massage and regular stretching, focusing on the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and hips, will aid recovery. “Use pressure point therapy with a tennis ball or fascia release with a foam roller to get into those tight spots,” he says.

Week one to two

Some runners may feel fully recovered, while others may still feel like their muscles have been pulverised. Once you feel ready, Mackevicius suggests starting with a light run, gradually increasing the duration as your body recovers.

He cautions against running too hard, too early. “You may feel great after the first week, but it’s the second week when the fatigue tends to hit the body.”

He explains that even the elite athletes will only race two to three full marathons a year.

“They want to maximise the body’s potential, and running any more than that may result in decreased performance. Running 42.2 kilometres demands a lot from your body – respect the distance and your body, and focus on recovery.”

Two to four weeks

“The two to four weeks after a full or half marathon are about increasing the intensity and duration of running, to have you back to a normal training regime by week four,” says Mackevicius.

How will you know you are fully recovered?

“When you can perform a full run without feeling as though you’ve been battered,” says Mackevicius. “There’s no given rule as to how many days it will take to recover. But I was always told that a good athlete is a smart athlete, therefore listening to your body is of utmost importance.”

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Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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