Recovery after your race

Congratulations AGAIN on finishing your race!  I hope you’ve had some time to take in the moment. Finishing your race, whether your first full marathon, or 12th half marathon is a great accomplishment!!

Just like our training leading up to the race, recovering after your race should also be approached with a plan and the way you do it will affect your outcome. What you do the weeks following the half or full marathon is very important to your overall fitness, injury potential and ability to return to running or racing.   The recovery period is like a "reverse taper" where you will build up the mileage and intensity of working out.

Recovery - Half vs Full

Recovering after a Medium / Long race between 10-15 miles (like a Half Marathon ;) is quite different than after a Long distance race of Full marathon distance or longer).  Racing over 18-20 miles starts to take a more serious toll on your body so those Recovery plans require more time, guidance and focus.  However, any “Race” requires a recovery plan whether it’s a few days or a few weeks.

The major difference is “When to Start Running” and “How Much”.  Where applicable, I will include any notes/differences between half and full marathons.

Take a Few Days Off . . if you can.

Don’t worry about running right away.  In fact, plan on at least 2-3 days completely away from running, more if you really just “feel” like needing some time off.  Even if you’re going to be training again soon, don’t let the thought of “losing shape” get you down because it won’t happen.  Think about doing some Active Recovery noted below. If you are feeling especially sore, or worse, injured, then you can plan some additional days off.  The risk of injury during this time is heightened.  Even if you’re not going to be training again soon, a sports massage within a few days will help get back to normal.

But, if you have to be getting back on the horse right away (Say, if you have another race soon, or a few Long runs coming up shortly)  then you’ll need to get going again quickly.  Do plan to “take it easy” for the first week back though.

Rest your mind

Besides congratulating yourself for a great race, take pride in sharing your experience with your family, friends and co-workers.  Congratulate yourself over and over for your accomplishments.  But, don't dwell about some of the rough training, or worse, getting back into a full training program!  Even if you're racing again soon, DO NOT DWELL ON IT . . .  REST!!!

How much overall recovery?

The amount of “recovery” you employ depends on a few factors.  If you are a fairly new runner (less than 3 solid years) then your body can use up to 2 full weeks for a half, and up to 3 full weeks for a full.  The same holds true if you did not fully train very well leading into the race.  If you are a seasoned runner then a week or so will suffice for a half, and 2 weeks for the full.  Advanced & more seasoned runners usually recover and back up to speed much quicker.  

At the same time, if you are continuing on to another race or even a full marathon, then you’ll want to plan on getting back onto the pavement with a more effective approach.

  • Recovery/Build-up should be about 1-2 weeks. Can be running again within 1-3 days.

Some practice a general rule of “recovery days = number of miles you raced” and this means that it should take you XX number of days before you get back to your full intensity, longest runs, etc.  IMO, this is a bit conservative, but you can get the idea.

Racing within a Month?

I know some of you are planning a race in the next month –  Your plan have to be adjusted slightly.   You may have to accelerate this a bit . . . but just DO NOT accelerate it too fast this week - this week should still be for the most part "OFF".  Then accelerate during weeks 2-4.

How To Recover? Active Recovery

The best thing you can do right now is to get back off of the couch and get moving again.  This will help loosen the muscles, joints and soft tissues and help flush out waste and toxins from your systems.  “Active Recovery” (AR) is just that, being active.  And it’s to be accomplished with something BESIDES what got you here in the first place – running.   Examples include Walking, Cross Training, Cycling, Swimming.  Basically anything active that gets the heart rate up.  Should be done for 30-60 minutes depending on how you feel, your recent activity, etc.  AR should be accompanied by some stretching.

  • Half Marathon: Plan on 2-4 days of Active Recovery

  • Full Marathon: Depending on goals, can do AR only for up to 5-6 days.

Again, if you're injury free and feeling up to it, the best thing you can do is go out for a decent walk . . tonight or tomorrow.  Go for a walk, do some shopping, etc.  Anything to get you "up and about" for a bit to start getting that blood flowing again and joints/muscles loosened up.  For those who went out on race night and celebrated, chances are you all WILL recover faster and better.   For those ready to jump back into training, plan on some Active Recovery by mid-week (yoga, swimming, light elliptical, dynamic warm-up/stretching, etc.) – all usually done at the gym.

Post-Race Massage / Stretching

Nothing feels better than a good sports massage and it’s even better after a race.  Post race sports massage is extremely beneficial in getting things back into shape – breaking up scar tissues, getting things back into alignment, lengthening and loosening tight muscles, joints and just providing an overall good physiological response.  

In addition, you should evaluate your stretching routine, and work it into your Active Recovery.  The best time to get a good, sports recovery massage is in the 1-4 days after your race. Tell your therapist the details of your race and he/she’ll adjust accordingly.  You may need more than one massage to get yourself back on track, or fully recovered.

Reverse Taper & Week “0”

If your goals are to get training again for say a spring or summer race like La Jolla, Rock n Roll or AFC Half;) then you’ll want to approach your recovery with a plan.  After the race, you’ll want to approach retraining like a reverse taper.  This effectively keeps your running intensity down while slowly building back mileage.

  • Reverse Taper / Buildup for about 1.5-2 weeks.

When to do that First Run Again?

Following everything reviewed above and again, assuming you're going to keep up the training for say, a summer race or just to keep things up, when you run again depends on what race you just finished:

  • Can plan on first run on Tuesday, easy 3 miles of walking

How To Run during Recovery

Regardless, ALL runs during this reverse taper should be EASY in nature.  Risk of injury is high during this period.

  • All runs are recovery and easy runs during recovery period.

  • Keep heart rate below 70-75% MHR

  • Advanced runners may get into things quicker.

These are all similar to the recommendations from Hal Higdon, a well-known long distance running coach:   *NOTE: That Hal Higdon uses terms “Novice” where I use “Intermediate” and “Intermediate” where I use “Advanced”.  He does have “advanced” programs, but *some* of those are nearing pro/elite levels.


If you're feeling a specific injury, RICE it (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) should be done, along with anti-imflamatory's like Ibuprofen.  See a medical professional if needed.  You may need to see some further professional help from our friends at  or

Adjusting your Nutrition

You may have been “Carb Loading” the last week or so leading into the race meaning you’re probably sick and tired of those complex carbs.  Personally, I cannot have any mixed aide or supplement for at least 2-3 days after a race.  Now is the time to go have that big fat steak!!  But seriously, you can cut back on the high carb diet.  Regardless of your near future schedule, you should continue to HYDRATE well for at least a few days, yes, still hydrating.  You are likely a bit dehydrated from the weekend’s activities without even knowing it.  A few more bottles of Cytomax or Gatorade isn’t going to hurt!   Eat & Drink to rebuild energy stores.  You'll likely be sick of carbs, and that's okay, you should resume back to normal balance of food intake - both divisions of carbs, proteins, fats AND the quantity taken.

  • Half vs. Full: No difference in Nutrition. (But is one if you’re going to continue training vs. done with running)

If you’re going to continue training, you’ll want to get back to your training levels.  If you are not going to be training anytime soon, then you’ll want to cut even more back to more regular levels – dependent on your overall fitness goals, etc.

“I’m Done Running!!”

First of all, If you are hanging up your running shoes we’ll be sad to not see you around ;) but still congratulate you on finishing the program and making your goals.  You should still perform some form of recovery plan to aide in just getting back to normal life as best possible.  The worst thing anyone can do is to stay on that couch you likely got on yesterday afternoon. If you do nothing, your recovery time will actually take longer, so even if you plan to never run long again, you’ll benefit in some sort of “recovery”

In Summary

In summary, the recovery and taper plans are very personal and depend on factors such as experience/history, injury status, near term goals (upcoming races) and if so, what type of race you’re going to be doing.  Overall, it’s a reverse taper approach and how long that taper is depends on how you’ve done, how you’re feeling and what your upcoming goals are.

Once again, congratulations to all of you who completed your goals this season.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  There will be a few more emails left this week, but for the most part . . we're done!!!

See ya out there!