Have you recently finished a marathon? After many months of training, it’s time to give yourself some TLC. Resting is essential to our body’s health after a marathon and what you do or don’t do after a race determines how quickly you can recover. Here is a step-by-step timeline on how you should rest after a marathon.

After the Marathon

After finishing a marathon, there are many ways to help your legs recover faster. Try to keep moving for about 10-15 minutes after the finish line. Runners will also want to avoid static stretching. Most runners feel soreness due to muscle damage, and static stretching could make this pain worse.

An hour after finishing a marathon, participants should try to eat a carb-rich snack or drink. Ensure that you replace the carbs you’ve used during the run. Within the next 1-2 hours, try and eat a balanced diet that includes vegetables, protein and carbs. Make sure you stay hydrated and pay attention to the color of your urine over the next day; it should be light yellow or clear.

In the afternoon after the marathon, try napping for about 90 minutes. This is the optimum time to experience REM sleep. Sleep is essential to repairing muscles, so instead of celebrating afterward, your body will thank you for much-needed sleep. It’s also advised to avoid anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Don’t take this medicine for several days after a marathon because it can damage the liver. Paracetamol is a better choice.

In the evening, choose a milk-based drink before bedtime. The carbs and proteins within milk can help aid a quicker recovery. Also, remember that it’s essential to avoid alcohol. While a celebratory drink is fine, avoid making a big celebration after finishing the race because this can dehydrate your body and slow down recovery.


The Next Day

The day after the race, try wearing compression socks or tights when possible. Studies show that they can help boost recovery. Remember to also stay away from people with colds or other infections. As you’ve undergone a serious physical challenge, your immune system is compromised, making it more susceptible to post-race illness and colds.


Two Days After

Two days after the race, try going for a slow, gentle swim. Active recovery helps more than sitting still on the sofa. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine shows that swimming-based recovery sessions enhance the next day’s exercise performance compared to recovery with no movement. A few short lengths in the pool can help runners master their DOMS. However, you should remember to avoid running still.


Three to Four Days After

Scheduling a sports massage three to four days after a marathon is ideal. Immediately after the marathon, it’s best to avoid this, just like static stretching, because your muscles are healing and it could make things worse. Also, avoid ice baths during this time. Ice baths should be taken only immediately after the race. But after, opt for warmer baths. Olympian Jo Pavey says that hot baths promote blood flow to the muscles by dilating the blood vessels, but that is not what you want immediately after exercising. When the acute pain reduces, a hot bath is best to help increase the circulation that supports healing in the days that follow.


Five to Six Days After

Try going for a “test” run that lasts 20-30 minutes, taking notice of any enduring aches or pains. However, you should avoid any speed or uphill racing or anything performance-based. It’s still best to take it easy and not overpower your muscles.

Preparing for Your Next Marathon

There’s not an absolute answer to the question of when you can run again in your next marathon. It depends on how you ran and how you feel now. Some experts may suggest that one day of rest for every mile raced or 26 days of rest is ideal. Others recommend one day of rest for each kilometer raced, totaling 42 days of rest! Running a race at sub-maximal effort is different from racing the whole length. However, there isn’t an exact equation to follow for recovery after a marathon. The best bet is to tune into and listen to your body.

Remember to always take a break after a marathon. Even if you feel fine, your muscles, tendons and soft tissue need to rest. Getting straight back into a running routine only increases the chances of injury. One or two weeks of light cross-training will suffice for those with pent-up energy who want to keep moving after the marathon. Other low-impact activities like swimming, cycling or the elliptical every other day for the same period is an excellent substitute for exercise after a marathon and subsequent rest periods. And remember, if you experience any pains, minor aches, soreness and fatigue, give yourself a few days of rest. Your body will thank you.