When we runners talk about running and racing, we often focus on the active part: training, racing, and so on. But one of the most important aspects of improving as a runner and staying injury-free is recovery, especially recovery after a long-distance race. In this article, you will learn how to recover after a half marathon so you can return to training and reduce injury risk.
Note that when I talk about recovering a half marathon in this post, I mean recovering from a half marathon that you raced at a hard effort. There’s a difference between racing 13.1 miles as hard as you can and running a half marathon as a long run or for fun. Racing takes more of a toll on the body. It requires more recovery from a goal race than if you ran the half marathon at a comfortable effort. Even if you did run your half marathon at an easy pace, still take the basic steps to recover well after a long run!
Recovery after a 5K and 10K is simple, as you do a few days of easy running before resuming normal training. For a marathon, a full one to two weeks off from running will help your body repair from the physiological damage of running for 26.2 miles. But when you ask the question of how to recover after a half marathon, the answer is often vague and varied. In today’s post, I want to cover the factors that need to be considered when recovering from a half marathon.
How to Recover After a Half Marathon
Why Recovery Matters
Recovery is an essential part of running, especially for runners who train for full and half marathons. We put our bodies through months of higher mileage, speed work, strength training, foam rolling, and watching our nutrition, and then push ourselves right to the edge of our physical limit for 13.1, 26.2 miles, or beyond. Many runners start thinking about their new goals and next race the moment they cross the finish line. However, in order to make the most of our training, runners must emphasize recovery after races.
Running and racing are both physically and mentally demanding. Too much can lead to both physical and mental burnout. Recovery acts as a reset button as it allows your body to fully heal from the race. Your muscles endured several microtears, you put a lot of pounding on your feet, and you depleted your glycogen stores. These can only be healed by rest and should be fully repaired before you resume running. Knowing the right way of how to recover after a half marathon will heal your muscles, replenish your glycogen, and prepare you for your next cycle of training.
Pushing yourself before your muscles, joints, and energy stores have repaired will set you up for injury or burnout later. Additionally, it gives your mind a brief break from running. You’re sure to come back a few days break rested and excited to run again. Recovering from a half marathon or full marathon requires discipline to make yourself rest. Remember that even the elites take a complete break from running to recover after their peak race of the season.
Immediately After the Race
As soon as you cross the finish line, you shift from racing mode to recovery mode. Take a moment to bask in your accomplishment and celebrate a PR if you earned one. Then be sure to get some food and water to jumpstart the recovery process. Your muscles worked hard; now they need protein and carbohydrates to start repairing. Since your appetite may be a bit off from the hard effort, don’t worry about your post-race meal or snack being “healthy.” Instead, eat what you want and can within 60 minutes of finishing the race.
Later that day, foam roll and elevate your legs up against the wall for a few minutes each. The mild compression of foam rolling will release any adhesions that might have formed in the connective tissue of your muscles. Elevation will reduce swelling in your feet and working muscles and help return your circulation to normal.
How Long Should You Take Off After a Half Marathon?
A few factors will impact your time needed to recover from a half marathon:
- Finish time: The body responds differently to running hard for 90 minutes and running hard for over two hours. Total time on your feet is a significant factor in how long you need to recover. If you finished your half marathon in approximately 90 minutes or less, you can quickly resume running after just 2-4 days off from your goal race. If your finish time was more than 2.5 hours, you may need up to a week off of running to recover.
- Experience level: Your body adapts, so an experienced runner needs less time off than a novice. First-time half marathoners may not have covered the full distance of the race until race day. Experienced runners may have run 14-16 miles as their peak long run in half marathon training.
- How the race went: While a good race does not mean you can skip recovery, a bad race may need a longer recovery. Part of the reason you want to take more time off after a bad race is for mental recovery. You likely will need a bit of a break from running to avoid mental burnout. If you experienced any sharp pains or injuries during the race, you want to take at least a week off. It’s better to take one week of downtime than to be off for weeks due to an injury.
Ultimately, you have to listen to your body. If you feel like you need more time off, take it. If your first run back feels off or sluggish, considering taking another day or so off and try some cross-training instead.
What to Do As You Recover from a Half Marathon
Three to seven days may seem like a long time to take a break from running. You’re probably worried about losing hard-earned fitness. However, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur anywhere from 24-72 hours after a race. By waiting at least four or five days before you resume running, you avoid adding further stress and fatigue to your muscles. You will only lose a minor about of fitness, which you will easily gain back once you start running again. Consider a recovery week or two as an investment in injury-free training.
Yoga or Pilates are excellent activities during your recovery period, since they are low-impact, low intensity, and focus on stretching and realigning tight spots. Pick a practice that emphasizes simple poses that stretch and gently strengthen your muscles, loosen your joints, and increase your circulation.
Once you resume running, you want to stick to easy runs. Running fast places more strain on your body, which is not ideal when your goal is to recover. A general rule of thumb is to wait a day for each mile raced hard before you run hard again. After a half marathon, that’s almost two weeks out from race day before you want to re-introduce speed work. There’s no need to add any additional fatigue to your muscles!
What’s After the Recovery Period?
Recovery can expand beyond one to two weeks after a race. If you just finished a big goal race, consider taking an “off-season” from racing. Spend your off-season months focusing on base building, so that you can begin your next training cycle with a strong aerobic base and no injuries.
If you plan on training for another race shortly after your half marathon, don’t jump right back into normal training. After a couple days off, follow the protocol for returning to fast running and do just easy runs at slightly lower mileage until 2 weeks after the race. You want to be ready to run fast again by your next race – not overtrained.
Itching to get back into training for your next race? Contact me on my coaching services page or email me at [email protected] to get started!
How do you recover after a half marathon?
Great info. I think in the past I haven’t recovered properly from half marathons because Ive been in the mindset that its “only” a half. Really though, if you race hard for that long it requires a decent amount of recovery!
Thank you! I have thought before that it’s “only” 13 miles and I run that plenty in training…but never that fast, and the pace makes a difference!
All great points! I focus on beer 😀
Beer is a must after a race! Quick carbs are great for recovery, right? I had Black Butte porter from Deschutes after this half and I’m pretty certain that helped 🙂
I remember when I would take the day after a half off from work (for Sun. races). It makes me grin. Now it takes an ultra for a day off.
That’s why I like Saturday races so much – an automatic day off afterward!
Great tips! I always focus on compression and sometimes ice baths or epsom salt baths after a half marathon.
Thank you! Compression is so beneficial after a race – especially if there’s any travel involved!
Admittedly, I am a bit of a rebel when it comes to guidelines pertaining to anything to do with resting. Ha ha! I won’t sway anyone with my rebellious comments. I think what you wrote here is spot on and really healthy.
Hahaha thank you! I do err to the conservative side with recovery – especially when giving advice to others!
This is great, Laura. I’m with you on a slightly more conservative approach. I’m amazed on Instagram how many runners will jump right back into hard training after a half! My mind needs that break as much as my legs! I’m already looking forward to an easy week after my race. 🙂
It amazes me as well! I would be burnt out if I just jumped back in. Like you said, recovery is as much mental as it is physical!
Great tips. I only take 2-3 days off after a hard effort half. I’m usually a little sore the day after but once the DOMS subsides I do some easy runs to get things moving again.
Easy runs after a few days are beneficial for recovery. I also like walks during the days immediately afterwards to aid in recovery as well!
I definitely need to do a better job of recovering after a race, I’m glad I have you help remind me of what to do! Thanks for the great tips!
Thank you! We will make sure you recover well after Love Run! Congrats on RNR DC!
great points and I agree listening to your body is the most important.
If I really raced a half, I’d take at least 5 days off from running. Most of the time it’s because I just need a break from running and coming off a training plan. By then, I’m ready to run again.
Training hard and racing is so mentally fatiguing! There’s something to be said about just taking a break to keep running enjoyable.
If I have learned anything since I started running, it’s how important recovery is! Great guide and advice!
Thank you! The recovery is so important – just as important as training!
All great tips Laura! I think it’s important to listen to your body and take a little down time before diving into a new training plan.
Thank you Michelle! The downtime is so valuable – it’s too much both mentally and physically to be training hard all of the time.
I usually tell the athletes I coach that a half or full marathon isn’t just a race or run, but more like a traumatic event for the body. That usually helps them understand the need for a period of regeneration 🙂
Question and help! I just finished my first half marathon, which I loved. I did a 12 week training plan and followed it pretty closely. I am currently taking the the time to recover, but can’t wait to start training again for my next half marathon! I am just stuck as to what to do. I’m not sure if I should follow another 12 week program, which will have me cutting my running miles down and then building them back up again, or just continue to run more frequently and so another half sooner than 12 weeks. I finished my first in 2:02 and would love to get that time under 2:00. I just don’t want to lose my fitness level that I have already built up. The new 12 week plan I am looking at has me running 97 more miles and more frequently than the plan before.
Hi Kelly! Thanks for commenting. While it is hard to give you specific advice without knowing your background as a runner and what your training plan looks like, I recommend taking a couple weeks to a couple months for recovery and base building between half marathons. That way, your body and mind can recover, you can build up your aerobic base more, and you won’t risk overtraining. You will not lose your fitness level by taking time to build your base – and that way, you can handle the demands of a plan with more miles without risking injury.
Hi, After about 4 months of running 3 times a week, I ran 13 Miles for the first time yesterday in 2 hours 27 minutes- I know its not quick by any standard but it is my first run more than 10 miles. And the trail had a lot of uphills so I am fairly proud of myself 🙂 .I had to slow down my pace in the last 2 miles – I felt drained out.
Can you recommend a good meal/pre-workout plan before my next half marathon run? This time around I just drank a small bottle of chocolate milk.
Congrats on your first half marathon! I would recommend choosing something bland and easy to digest but with enough calories to sustain you throughout the race – bananas, toast, etc. You also want to consider taking some sort of food or sports nutrition product like a gel throughout the run to help you stay energized through those final miles.
Great article! I raced a half marathon on Thanksgiving and am anxious to get back into running. Today is day 5 without running and while I have been cross training and walking, I am having a hard time ‘chilling out’. I also find the weird aches in my legs to be concerning even though I went out hard on a hilly course. It’s hard recovering so thank you for the post.
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Hi Laura! I just finished my third 1/2, the second this year. I am a 62 year old female and only started running halfs a few years ago but got picked up three times at the 10 mile mark. I am frustrated because I did 10 miles at a hard pushed 15 min pace on a sunday. I walked about 8-10 miles a day at Disney for the next 5 days, ran a 10k on sat that seemed to be a struggle, then ran a 1/2 on sunday. I struggled trying to keep 15 min and finished at a couple of min over a 16 min mile. It was still my best time by a few min but why was it so hard? I walked 7 miles the next day at Disney. I am really sore now. What should I do? My daughter wants to go for a 10k and push toward a 13 min mile 12 days after the half to get better corral placement in the next half 3 months from now. What should I do?
I’m a high school senior and I’m running a half marathon a week before a big 5k xc race. I’ve done multiple long runs over 13 miles without much trouble and I’m confident I can run low 1:20s. The question is will my body be back to its prime by the week after? Or should I just take it easy and focus on the more important 5k.
This is very helpful! I love how the rest can be as little as two days. I will give this a try. Do you think it wise to use a hard and fast half effort as a long run?
Thank you for the recovery advice, just did my first half marathon after being on a high the last two days, I feel flat today, that’s the only way to describe it. Friends have said you need to get running again, but after reading this I will just fit in some walks this week and good nutrition. The thing I also found odd was that after my race I really craved a doughnut and latte .