Post Marathon Recovery and the Reverse Taper

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a marathon is a feeling of stiffness and soreness that begins eight or more hours afterwards and it may last three or four days. Several causes for DOMS are:


  • Damage to the muscle tissue. This may be due to depletion of energy reserves or actual degeneration of muscle fibers.
  • Accumulation of fluid and breakdown products in the muscle.
  • Muscle spasm.
  • Overstretching or tears of connective tissue.


Pain relief can be aided by icing, massage, light activity and slow gentle stretching to increase the circulation to the area. Increased circulation takes away waste and extra fluid and brings new nutrients. Drinking fluids will help flush the waste products from your body.


Immediately after finishing a marathon

Try an easy walk of 10 minutes or so to avoid fainting, leg cramps or nausea which may result from stopping suddenly or lying down. Do not stretch now. Take advantage of massage if offered. Drink lots of fluids, especially ones rich in electrolytes like orange or tomato juice. Try to drink a glass of water every hour or two. Eat something as soon as you can. A large balanced meal may be the best for replacing the nutrients your body needs. Avoid long soaks in hot water that may cause swelling. Take a nap if you feel like you need one. Try to take a 10 to 15 minute walk later in the day to keep circulation going.


The next day after the marathon

Post race depression is quite common when the fatigue and soreness may make you wonder if the marathon was worth it. This is a normal response after achieving your goal and not having a new goal to look forward to. Take time to reflect back on what went well and what didn’t. No matter how many marathons you have run, you can learn something that you can do differently next time.


Any exercise you can do will promote circulation and aid recovery. If you feel like you can run, start slowly by starting out with a walk since you may be quite stiff. A good rule to follow is to not run anymore than you did the day before the marathon (about 10 to 15 minutes). Eat anything that looks or sounds good to you.You probably need it and you definitely deserve it. Plan to take it easy and go to bed early.


The week after the marathon

You may experience a general lack of energy. This is normal since you have worked hard and deserve to rest. Plan on an early bedtime for at least a week to help you get over the fatigue. Eat well-balanced meals with plenty of complex carbohydrates to replenish your body’s energy stores and eat adequate protein to rebuild any tissue damage.


As the stiffness and soreness goes away, you can slowly build up your runs. Think of it as a reverse taper or just the opposite of what you did while tapering in the weeks leading up to the race. You should slowly ramp up your mileage from a minimum in the days after the race until you are ready to do hard workouts again. Avoid the temptation to do a hard workout in the week after the marathon since you are not recovered yet.


The month following the race

If you are not an experienced marathoner, expect to have some long term fatigue for a few weeks. You will notice the fatigue when you try to do hard or long runs. The fatigue will eventually go away and you will be stronger than ever. It usually takes longer for beginning marathoners to fully recover than for experienced marathoners. You won't lose all that much conditioning by running less for a few weeks to allow your body and mind to fully recover.

This will help you return to training stronger and reduce the chance of injury.