How to Recover from a Half Marathon
The most critical element to half marathon success is recovery.
Yes, as crazy as that sounds, it’s correct.
Without recovery, all your hard workouts simply wear you down and don’t allow your body to adapt to the stimuli of hard workouts and miles on your feet.
Most runners understand this critical training theory when it comes to their weekly workouts. If you don’t, here’s an awesome video that explains the workout and recovery process. What we often forget is that this applies to races.
In fact, I’d argue that the most important element to making long-term progress with your half marathon times is recovery from races.
In previous articles, we’ve taken a deep dive into the research on the recovery process for a marathon, Today we’re going to look at what research can tell us about how to best recover after running a half marathon.
- How damaging the half marathon is to your body
- How long it takes to recover
- How you can speed up the process
- How soon to plan your next race after a half marathon.
Understanding the effects of the Half Marathon on your body
Researchers haven’t provided us with a slew of data about the impact of a half marathon race on markers of damage such as creatine kinase levels (CK), cellular damage and the immune system.
However, some studies do provide us some meaningful data that, when combined with what we know about the speed of recovery, can help us determine just how much damage a half marathon does to our body so we can make sure we recover enough.
This study collected data specific to the effects of recovery strategies following a half marathon. This study indicates,
“The half-marathon race induced a temporary state of fatigue independent of the recovery mode, as significant fatigue-related alterations in muscle contractile characteristics, perceptions of muscle soreness, recovery and stress as well as in blood markers of muscle damage, inflammation, metabolic status, and neurohumoral regulation occurred.”
This study was conducted on runners that raced a half marathon at or near their lactate threshold.
This means the data is applicable to you if you raced your half marathon anywhere on the effort scale of moderate to all-out. If you just ran easy, I don’t think this data applies.
How long does it take to recover from a Half Marathon?
The data from this particular study showed that bio-markers of muscle damage and cellular damage were present even 48 hours after the race regardless of how the runner felt.
This is significant for two reasons.
First, it doesn’t matter how you feel after the race and the days after the race, the research shows that there is still significant muscular and cellular damage you need to recover from
Second, using data from the fatigue and damage after a marathon, we can extrapolate that the recovery from the half marathon takes between 3-7 days depending on your fitness level, individual recovery rate, and how hard you raced.
How can you speed up the recovery from a Half Marathon?
Now that we know you need three to seven days to fully recover from the half marathon, what does this recovery protocol look like?
How should you approach your training the week after the race? Is there anything you can do to speed up recovery?
What to do immediately after your Half Marathon race
- Make sure you have something to eat within an hour or two hours of finishing. We know from recent research that there is no 15-30 minute window (so you don’t need to rush to get something in), but you also shouldn’t be waiting 3-4 hours before you refuel either. Aim for 300-600 calories and a ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrate to 1 gram of protein and only a little fat.
- Once you get home, try to take an ice bath (simply fill your tub with cold water and ice – you don’t need to go crazy) and sit for 10-15 minutes. Then you can shower and get on with your day
- Later in the evening or before bed, try a light massage. Don’t dig into the muscles, but rather use light strokes to get blood flowing.
What do do 1-3 days after your Half-Marathon race
Running: 0-100% of your normal easy day volume. Don’t schedule any workouts, but you can run easy up to your normal easy run distance.
Cross Training: light – don’t go crazy, you’re not losing fitness.
Recovery Tips and tricks:
- Soak in a hot tub for 10-15 and stretch well afterwards.
- Each lots of fruits, carbohydrates, and protein. The Carbs and protein will help repair the muscle damage while the fruits will give you a boost of vitamin C and antioxidants to help combat free radical damage and boost your immune system.
- Light massage will help loosen your muscles. Don’t schedule a deep tissue massage yet, just a gentle effleurage massage or a light rolling with the stick.
What to do 4-7 days after your Half Marathon race
Begin to build back to your normal easy running volume. You can schedule a workout later in the week if you’re feeling good, but try to keep it easy to moderate and not something too difficult.
Planning your next race – How much recovery do you need between races?
Taken from our article on how to build the optimal 1 or 2 year training plan, you should schedule a training cycle or races that focus on longer or shorter distances then the Half Marathon.
This allows you to work on other energy systems and types of training that ultimately allow you to become a better runner. You can’t train the same energy systems cycle after cycle and make progress. Eventually you’ll stall out.
Likewise, you don’t want to just take time off (even if it’s winter). You don’t have to be 100% committed and dedicated to training, but taking a season off is detrimental your long-term progress. Here’s an article that explains this entire concept of training between goal races.
Here is what a yearly half marathon cycle might look like:
- August to November – Half marathon build-up and specific training. If you’re an experienced runner, you can run a half marathon every two or three weeks, depending on your recovery rate.
- December – Short recovery and build-up period. It’s important you build in periods of recovery regardless of your experience level and race distance.
- January to March – Speed phase, 5k and 10k training, or base building. Choose whichever you like best or work on whatever system you feel is your weakness.
- March to June – Half marathon training and racing.
- June through September – Recovery and then either base training or speed phase, whichever you didn’t do in the winter.
From here you can repeat the cycle and use the same races to measure progress or tweak your racing schedule to find new experiences or challenges.