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Crafting an Effective Plan for Recovering from a Half Marathon

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

You accomplished it! You adhered to your half-marathon training plan, mastered your fueling strategy, and just completed your 13.1-mile race. So, what should your post-half marathon recovery involve? Well, unfortunately, collapsing onto the grass, celebrating with a beer, and spending the remaining part of the day on your couch binge-watching Netflix isn’t advised by experts.

Do not worry, here’s the strategy for precisely what you should do for half marathon recovery, from the moment you cross the finish line until you go to bed that night, according to experts.

12 Tips for Appropriate Half Marathon Recovery

Every person’s half marathon recovery plan will appear slightly different, depending on their capability, fitness level, running experience, and dietary requirements. However, these recovery instructions will assist you in navigating the 24 hours following the race so that you can recover as quickly as possible. (And here’s what to do after any workout — within 30 minutes, to be precise.)

Take a leisurely stroll promptly after your race.

Yes, you just completed a 13-mile run, and standing on two feet now feels more difficult than ever. However, it is truly important to keep moving for at least 10 to 20 minutes after you’ve finished, allowing your heart rate to decrease. “Runners who cross the finish line and sit down — regardless of how wonderful it may feel in the moment — risk stiffening up or potentially straining a muscle,” says Roberto Mandje, Olympic long-distance runner and head of training at New York Road Runners.

By walking, you encourage active recovery; you are still pumping blood through your fatigued muscles and simultaneously clearing all the excess metabolic waste (lactic acid) that you accumulated during the race, he says.

There is another important reason why movement is a crucial aspect of half marathon recovery: Since your body had been supplying blood and oxygen to the working muscles, abruptly stopping can lead to blood pooling in the lower extremities, reducing your blood pressure. This can cause some runners to feel dizzy or light-headed and even faint, says Dennis Cardone, D.O., chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Orthopedics.

(It’s also not advised to leap in a vehicle or airplane within a few hours post-competition for the identical cause, states Dr. Cardone.)

Concentrate on rehydrating.

The primary focus after completing a race should be rehydrating. “Ideally, you should strive to consume about 16 to 20 ounces per pound lost during a race,” explains Katie Kissane, R.D., a certified sports dietitian. Since most individuals won’t weigh themselves before and after a race, you should aim for approximately 16 to 20 ounces of water or an electrolyte beverage immediately after finishing, as stated by Kissane. Then aim for another 16 to 20 ounces within the following hour, and continue to replenish every hour until you’re adequately rehydrated.

Moreover, sports drinks are imperative for recovery after a half marathon, according to Marni Sumbal, R.D., an exercise physiologist and certified sports dietitian. “It’s crucial to include sodium in your rehydration beverage instead of solely consuming plain water to prevent excessive urination,” she explains.

While the amount of fluid necessary will depend on the race’s length, temperature, humidity, and the level of hydration during the race (i.e., if you stopped at every water station, you may not require as much afterward), the simplest way to monitor your post-race rehydration is through the traditional urine color test. Light yellow indicates proper hydration, while dark yellow/amber usually signifies dehydration. Alternatively, you can utilize the expert- and TikTok-approved skin test, which involves pinching the skin around one of your finger’s knuckles. If the pinched shape remains for several seconds or longer, you’re likely dehydrated.

Stretch your legs.

Give priority to performing some basic static stretches after the race, with special attention to your quadriceps and hamstrings to enhance blood circulation in the area, as recommended by Mandje. Attempt a simple quad stretch: Hold on to something for support, then bring your foot behind you, grasp the ankle, and slowly pull it toward your glutes. Hold for five seconds and repeat a couple of times on each side. Then show your hamstrings some affection: While lying down, keep one leg flat on the ground and grab the opposite leg behind the calf, gradually bringing it toward your chest. Repeat the same with the other leg.

Change your attire.

You’ll most likely want to do this anyway, but it’s crucial to plan ahead and have a companion who can bring you dry (or warmer) clothing to switch into, advises Mandje. Due to the presence of cold sweat and decreased body heat, “wandering around in your race attire poses the risk of falling ill once the sweat has evaporated and the adrenaline from the race has subsided,” he explains.

(Not to mention the reality that capturing that perspiration and bacteria against your skin in moist exercise attire can result in acne, or even more severe: candida infections.)

And in the meantime, make sure to grab one of those gleaming thermal blankets at the finish line, says Alexis Colvin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. More than just a keepsake, it’ll ensure you don’t end up chilly and quivering while you locate your dry attire.

Don compression socks.

While you’re executing that ensemble alteration, you might also want to consider incorporating a compression sock into the mixture. Although certain research has suggested there could be some impact on muscular stamina, the verdict is still undecided on whether compression equipment can genuinely enhance your performance while you’re running. But hey, if you’re similar to Olympic-medal-winning runner Meb Keflezighi and believe it aids, go for it.

However, there is evidence to uphold the utilization of compression equipment as part of your half-marathon recovery plan. That’s because they can hinder blood from accumulating in the lower extremities, says Dr. Cardone. (As mentioned earlier, when blood accumulates in your lower extremities, it can decrease your blood pressure.) Consider putting on a sock that reaches up to the knee and retaining them on until you go to bed to prevent accumulation and potentially obstruct lactic acid buildup and any swelling, he states.

Abstain from alcohol.

Certainly, if you truly desire to indulge in an ice-cold beer to commemorate, it won’t be that significant of a matter, but all the experts concurred on this one: Alcohol is not advised for at least 24 hours while your body returns to normal. While cracking open a cold one is often part of the post-race celebration, consuming alcohol on an empty stomach while your body is depleted means it will enter your bloodstream much more rapidly (read: you’ll sense the effects faster than you usually would) and will actually dehydrate you further, says Sumbal.

Not to mention, alcohol can also unfavorably impact muscle recovery and induce restless sleep, she says. That’s the complete opposite of what you desire during your post half-marathon recovery. If you must have a beer, just ensure you have 20 to 24 ounces of water in your system first, says Kissane.

Steer clear of acidic or high-fiber foods.

Many individuals can’t tolerate foods high in fat or fiber immediately after a race. During a race, there is reduced blood flow utilized for digestion; the blood is focused on supplying energy to the working muscles, and it takes some time for your body to recover and settle back into its normal blood flow allocation after a race, explains Kissane.

To prevent digestive issues, opt for a meal that is low in fiber and simple to digest. This rule also applies to foods and beverages that are acidic. Avoid consuming coffee and orange juice (regretfully, mimosas should also be avoided) during brunch as they can potentially lead to stomach problems when consumed on an empty stomach.

Stock up on carbohydrates.

“The secret to recuperation is to obtain carbs within an hour after completing a race,” states Kissane. This aspect of recovering from a half-marathon will aid in replenishing glycogen in the liver and muscles. “Some individuals do not tolerate solids well following a race, so fluids containing carbohydrates such as chocolate milk or fruit juice are perfectly acceptable,” she remarks.

Incorporate some protein.

Although the timing of protein may not be as crucial as it is for carbs, it is advisable to consume a meal containing both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of finishing, according to Kissane. “The protein will aid in repairing and rebuilding muscles after the race,” she explains. (Opt for a recovery drink with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of approximately 4:1 to address two aspects simultaneously, as per Mandje’s recommendation.)

Keep your body active for the remainder of race day.

Yes, you may flop onto the couch when you arrive home — you deserve it — but plan to rise every hour to mobilize your aching muscles and prevent excessive stiffness, advises Sumbal. Your body will appreciate it the following morning.

Indulge in an Epsom salt bath.

Allocate time for a magnesium and Epsom salt soak on the night of your race, suggests Sumbal. Alternatively, consider an ice bath, which studies indicate may help reduce soreness the following day, recommends Dr. Colvin. (Medical professionals have differing opinions on the effectiveness of both methods, but if you believe they are effective, there should be no harm in utilizing them during your post-half marathon recovery.) If a bath is not possible, remember to engage in some gentle stretching before getting into bed, as suggested by Dr. Colvin.

Gradually reintegrate regular exercise into your routine.

Chances are you do not intend to engage in any running activities within the 24 hours following the completion of a race. However, it is important to gradually ease back into your routine in the days that follow — and “do not anticipate being at the same level as you were in the weeks leading up to the event,” says Dr. Cardone. There is no definitive answer as the amount of recovery time required after a half marathon will vary depending on factors such as age, running experience, and the intensity of your run. However, the general guideline is to take one day off for each mile raced, according to Mandje.

At a bare minimum, refrain from vigorous runs or exercises and adhere to gentle jogging during that initial period of 10 to 14 days,” he suggests.

Most importantly, pay attention to your body. “If you’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it can last up to four days, in which case you should refrain from exercising completely until it has improved,” says Dr. Colvin. Once your muscle soreness has diminished, you can incorporate less strenuous activities such as cycling and swimming before you resume running, suggests Dr. Cardone. You’ll avoid the concerning risk of bone injury and most likely enjoy those post-race miles even more.

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