You just crossed the finish line of your half marathon. Your first thought? “When can run again?” Half marathon recovery is an essential part of the training plan, though not nearly as sexy as putting in the miles to get to race day.
It’s natural to be eager, especially when you see a blank slate on your training calendar for the next few weeks. But here’s the deal: half marathon recovery isn’t just a gap in your schedule; it’s where the real magic happens.
When you give your body the rest it deserves, you’re setting the stage for better performance down the line.
Recovery is where your body builds back stronger, so don’t think that by short changing it you are preventing fitness from being lost. You could actually be preventing gains!
How Long to Take Off After a Half Marathon
Wondering how long you should take off after race day? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some key questions to ask yourself:
- How hard did you run this race?
- Have you been dealing with any injuries?
- How long have you been running?
- Was this race part of a larger build up to a goal race?
The rule of thumb often thrown around is that you should take off 1 day from running for every 1 mile you raced.
For newer runners I think this is largely accurate. More experienced runners who might be using a half as a tune up race, aren’t going to need as much time off.
The microtears that happen in your muscles might not seem as apparent a few days post race when you’re walking without a shuffle, but the body is still in full on recovery mode.
Without giving your body enough time to recover, the possibility of injury increases exponentially. Plus you’re short changing future races by limiting the bodies growth from the effort.
Instead of healing, your muscles get further damaged,, they’re being further broken down and putting you in a hole.
That leads to changes in your running form, tight muscles or other issues which start to pull the body out of alignment.
Benefits of a Planned Half Marathon Recovery
Why do we need time off after a race?
Some people feel like that time off is a reward for all of their hard work leading up to the race, but for me I enjoy that process so the recovery is all about allowing my body to heal.
Instead of thinking of it as time wasted, focus on exactly how it’s making you a better runner.
- Rest days allow your muscles to refuel. You need those glycogen stores to refill, so that you’ll have energy.
- Rest days allow your muscles to repair. Repair means the body is going to grow stronger from the effort of your race.
- Rest days help prevent overtraining. The body has been pushed to it’s limits, which means cortisol is higher as the body responds to this intense stress. Giving this time to stabilize is important.
- Rest days help prevent injuries from poor form due to fatigue.
I am a proponent of active recovery, which you’ll see in the exactly day by day outline below.
How long should you rest after a half marathon?
Not terribly long for complete and total rest. In other words, just because you aren’t running doesn’t mean you should create a new dent in the couch.
Your body will actually feel better from some movement to help flush out the build up of lactic acid and prevent the body from getting stiff. Let’s look at how that might shake out in a specific plan.
Half Marathon Recovery Plan
The no running question, often leads to a bigger discussion of how not to lose fitness and what to do with the time that you would have spent running.
It’s KEY to keep doing something at that time every day.
This will help maintain that habit of fitness and make it easier to start running again after the time off.
Immediately Post Race: Focus on Recovery
Once you cross that finish line, your body is craving fluids to replenish what you’ve lost. Chugging water is good, but aim for a balanced electrolyte drink to fully recover those essential minerals.
It helps not just in rehydrating but also in muscle recovery. Hydration is a game-changer; it’ll speed up your overall recovery and get you back on the track sooner than you’d think.
I get it, finishing a half marathon feels like a good enough reason to just drop and rest. But resist that urge for now. Take a leisurely 30-minute walk instead.
This post-race stroll helps your body cool down naturally and aids in reducing lactic acid build-up. You’ll feel much less stiff the next day.
Put on Dry Clothes and Compression Socks
After that cool-down walk, swap your sweaty gear for a dry set of clothes. This reduces chafing and makes you feel a lot more comfortable. Also, consider pulling on some compression socks. These help stimulate blood flow, which aids in muscle recovery and can reduce swelling.
They’re a pro tip you won’t regret following.
Skip the Booze
It might be tempting to celebrate your victory with a post-run beer, but alcohol can interfere with your recovery. It can dehydrate you further and delay muscle repair. Save the champagne for when you’re fully recovered and back in your running groove.
Or go for it because you did something incredible, but know you really gotta hydrate!!!
Take a Warm Bath
An epsom salt bath is your best friend here. Say no to ice baths right after, unless dealing with a lot of pain; warm water with Epsom salts can relieve muscle soreness and offer a host of other benefits like reduced inflammation. Before hitting the sack, consider soaking for around 20 minutes to really reap the benefits.
Optimize Your Sleep
Sleep is like a magic wand for recovery, but it can be elusive when your system is still buzzing with post-race adrenaline and cortisol. So expect that night 1 you may be a little restless, but after that see what you can do to help your body relax.
If you’re finding quality shut-eye hard to come by, try a low dose of melatonin or a magnesium drink like CALM. A warm bath before bed can also work wonders. Establish a nighttime routine to help your body understand it’s time to wind down. Follow these sleep-boosting steps, and you’ll be lacing up your running shoes sooner than you think.
Should You Foam Roll After a Half Marathon?
This one is tricky. We don’t want to go in hard and push on sore muscles (like pushing on a bruise). But some light rolling could help tell your muscles and your central nervous system to relax.
So keep it moving on that foam roller, no major pressure and you may indeed help a little with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
One Day After the Half Marathon
So you’ve made it through the race and the immediate post-race recovery. Let’s talk about what you should be doing one day after your half marathon to keep that recovery going strong.
Expect Some Soreness
It’s totally normal to feel quite sore the day after running 13.1 miles (especially if you raced it hard). Your muscles have undergone a lot of stress, and they’re making it known.
Soreness can show up in places you might not expect, so don’t be surprised if even your shoulders or back feel tight. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds can provide some relief, but consult your healthcare provider to make sure they’re a good fit for you. Ideally we don’t want to mask pain.
Do Some Light Movement
While it might sound counterintuitive, light movement can actually help your muscles recover faster. We’re not talking about another run or a heavy gym session.
Think more along the lines of a leisurely walk or some gentle yoga stretches. These activities get the blood flowing, which helps transport nutrients to your sore muscles, aiding in faster recovery.
It’s one reason I’ll pull on my compression tights and go sightseeing even if I’m tired!
Eat The Right Post-Half Marathon Recovery Foods
First off, you’ll want to replenish your glycogen stores—your muscles’ favorite form of energy. Opt for complex carbs like whole grains or starchy vegetables. I know you are craving all the things and that’s fine, just also think about what foods are going to help you recover. Include anti-inflammatory foods like berries, leafy greens, and fatty fish to help keep post-run inflammation in check.
And protein is the next biggie; it’s the building block your muscles need to repair and grow stronger.
But don’t stop at carbs; hydration is key.
Go beyond water by including some snacks that are naturally high in electrolytes, such as bananas or coconut water, to help restore your fluid and electrolyte balance.
Two-Three Days After
You’re a couple of days removed from your half marathon, but that doesn’t mean your body’s done with its recovery. In fact, this period is crucial for fully absorbing all the physical exertion of the race.
This is your window to truly digest the race experience, both physically and mentally. If you had a great run, this is the perfect time to celebrate—reflect on what went right and how you can replicate that success in future races. And if things didn’t go as planned?
Don’t beat yourself up. Turn it into a learning experience. Consider it a practice race and dissect what went wrong and how you can improve.
Try a Long Yoga or Mobility Session
Keep the activity level light; think walks in the park or restorative yoga sessions that help stretch and relax your muscles without overtaxing them.
Consider Getting a Massage
If your muscles are feeling particularly tight and sore, a post-race massage might be just what you need. A skilled masseuse can work out the knots and tight spots that have developed during your race, helping to accelerate the healing process.
Opt for a lighter, more relaxing massage rather than a deep-tissue session; the goal here is recovery, not additional stress on your muscles.
Four-Five Days After
As you hit the four to five-day mark post-half marathon, you might start to feel that itch to ramp things up a notch.
While it’s okay to introduce some light cross-training at this point, let’s not get carried away. This is definitely not the time to dive into a high-intensity workout like CrossFit. Your body is still in the recovery phase, and the focus should be on gentle activities that complement your healing process.
Limited Cross Training
This is a great period to shift your attention to upper body and core workouts. Your legs have carried you through miles of pounding pavement, so they’re likely still in the recovery zone. But your arms? They’re raring to go.
Hitting the gym for some upper body and core exercises not only satisfies that urge to do something active but also fortifies your body against future injuries.
As you move into the one to two-week range after your half marathon, the key is to let your body be your compass. If you’re itching to get moving, that’s great, but hold off on pounding the pavement just yet.
Instead, broaden your fitness horizons with some cardio cross-training workouts. From swimming and biking to yoga and Pilates, these cross-training activities serve dual purposes: they keep you active while aiding your running game.
Taking a break from focused running isn’t just about physical recovery; it’s also a mental reset. Use this time to reconnect with why you fell in love with running in the first place. Remember, it’s not always about beating the clock; sometimes, it’s just about the pure joy of the run.
If you’re an experienced runner, you might feel up to a light jog by the end of the first week. If you’re newer to the sport, a run/walk combination could be a good compromise. Regardless of your experience level, keep this in mind: pushing too hard now and ending up injured a few months down the line is definitely not worth it.
By the end of this period, you should be feeling physically and mentally refreshed, ready to gradually reintroduce running into your routine. Keep the intensity low initially, and listen to your body; it’ll let you know when it’s ready for more.
Let your body be your guide to exercise, but keep the intensity low and try not to run if you can.
After this you should be feeling pretty good to start gradually adding in runs again.
When I Can Run Again After My First Half Marathon?
Seasoned runners who have done a lot of half marathons or have done a number of full marathons, will often feel like they can head out for a run within the next few days.
Some are absolutely fine with this because it wasn’t a day they pushed for a new personal record, but many realize in the weeks to follow they pushed it too soon.
- If this was a practice race, a completely fun run or part of the build up to marathon training, then the following week may include a number of easy runs.
- If this was a goal race, a first half marathon, a huge PR or a really difficult course, ideally you need to give your legs at least a week to recover.
- If this was a race gone wrong, then it depends on how you handled the day. If you’re injured don’t try to rush the return to running because you’re frustrated. If you backed off and turned it in to an easy run, then again a few weeks of easy running may be just fun.
You will not lose fitness in that time, in fact you GAIN fitness in the recovery process when you don’t short change it!
Example Half Marathon Recovery Plan
Okay, let’s piece this all together with a sample recovery plan to guide you through that crucial post-half marathon week.
- Monday: Start the week off with some restorative yoga to ease muscle tension and improve flexibility. Throw in a little walk to keep the blood flowing and assist in recovery.
- Tuesday: Another day for a walk and more restorative yoga. This routine helps you unwind while keeping your muscles engaged.
- Wednesday: If you’re feeling up for it, this is a good day to introduce some upper body weights and core work. But take it easy; the aim is to aid recovery, not hinder it.
- Thursday: Take a walk and then shift gears with a Vinyasa yoga session. This style of yoga will challenge your flexibility and core, without putting too much stress on those recovering leg muscles.
- Friday: Choose between a walk or a bike ride, and cap the day off with a Pilates session. Pilates is great for core strength and stability, setting you up nicely for future runs.
- Saturday: Yes, you guessed it, another walk paired with a yoga session. At this point, you’re almost at the finish line of your recovery week!
- Sunday: This might be the toughest day yet because you’ll probably want to run. Resist the urge and give yourself a mental high-five for sticking to your recovery plan.
Right now is another chance to start developing a few of the other habits that we know benefit our running like meal planning or meditation.
Because we have the extra time and are not putting in the miles, nutrition needs to be even more on point to keep us feeling good.
Sans endorphins that’s more true that ever! If this down period gives you a chance to develop some other good habits, those will carry over in to the next training cycle.
Looking for some additional training tips:
- Beginner half marathon tips
- How to taper the right way
- What is peak week during training
- Half Marathon Race Day Tips for a PR
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