This London Marathon Recovery Plan Is Essential Reading

A runner wears a foil blanket at the finish line in The TCS London Marathon on Sunday 2nd October 2022.
Using a foil wrap and stretching? This man has clearly read our expert marathon recovery plan (Image credit: Ian Walton for London Marathon Events)

Crossing the finish line of the London Marathon is a fantastic achievement, and one that marks the end of many months of marathon training. It’s a time to relax and celebrate with your friends and family, and you should go ahead and do just that, but bear in mind that there is one more stage of your marathon to go. Fortunately it’s the easiest stage of all—the recovery.

Many runners, especially first-time marathoners, will overlook the importance of their post-race recovery. If you intend to carry on running after your marathon it’s vital to consider what your body needs to get back into a good condition after the race. And even if you have no intention of ever running again, you’ll want to minimize the unpleasantness that can arise after covering 26.2 miles on foot.

To help you do just that, heed this marathon recovery advice from Kathy Scorer, senior physiotherapist at Nuffield Health when we interviewed her in 2018, and Graham Ferris, strength and conditioning coach at Pure Sports Medicine when we spoke to him in 2019.

“The final stage of a marathon training plan should always be recovery,” says Scorer.

“Recovery is essential for minimizing your injury risk, and skipping this vital stage can often inhibit your future performance. Running a marathon puts a huge amount of physical strain on the body, whether it’s your first or your tenth. Your immune system will be suffering and your muscles will be severely fatigued.”

The first step of your recovery should be to run through a quick check of your body and work out if you’ve picked up any injuries in the race. There will naturally be some pain and muscle tightness after running that far, but it’s important to separate short-term niggles from potential long-term injuries.

“If you’ve suffered a muscle strain or are feeling pain in a joint, you may need advice or treatment,” says Scorer. “If pain or injury persists, listen to your body and get it checked out immediately.”

If you have not been struck down with injury, then the next step is to NOT RUN. If you’ve become used to running regularly during your marathon training you might feel the itch to get back out there, but resist that temptation.

“I often see overuse injuries a couple of weeks after a marathon when runners have tried to get back into training too quickly,” says Scorer. “In the first couple of days after the event you shouldn’t be doing any running.

“The most common concern that drives people to overtrain too quickly is loss of fitness, but there is little loss of conditioning in the couple of weeks you take off to recover.

“Keep active by doing gentle, low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming to avoid overtaxing yourself.”

Marathon Recovery Checklist

After The Race

  • Keep an eye on your body temperature. Even if it’s a mild day you have to be careful not to get too cold. “Get a foil wrap,” says Ferris. “Your body temperature rises during exercise and requires the shedding of heat to keep you within an optimal range. Once the race is over, your body is a little slow at switching this auto-regulation down and therefore you continue to lose body heat. The foil retains this heat so you can manage your body temperature.”
  • Do a warm-down. The idea of more movement after a marathon might fill you with dread, but it’s necessary. “Try a gentle jog or walk for five minutes after you have finished the race to help promote blood flow around the body and minimize light-headedness from blood pooling,” says Ferris.
  • Then stretch. “Finish your warm-down with a whole-body stretch to not only release your stiff lower body joints but also help correct any postural ailments accumulated during your run,” says Ferris.
  • “Put your feet up for 10 minutes—literally,” says Scorer. “For example, lie on your back with your legs up against a tree. This will help reduce the build-up of fluid.”
  • Refuel. And don’t dilly-dally—you should start snacking straight away. Check the bag you get from marshals at the end of the race for tasty treats. “The ideal post-race snack should contain a 3:1 ratio of carbs (1.4g of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight) to protein (0.4g per kilogram of bodyweight), consumed within 30 minutes of finishing,” says Ferris. “Wash this down with an isotonic drink containing salts to top up the fluids lost. Double up with further protein within four hours of the end of the race to aid muscle recovery. Only then should you indulge yourself—do that too early and the recovery process (glycogen synthesis) will be blunted by fats.”
  • “Assess any blisters or injuries,” says Scorer. “Make sure the blisters are clean and dry, and if you have any muscle or joint pain, put some ice or cold water on the area for 20 minutes every two hours.”
  • Consider an ice bath. “There are mixed opinions on ice baths,” says Ferris. “Some research says that an alternating hot-cold bath—two minutes in each—can aid in blood circulation and help with recovery. What seems to have the strongest anecdotal evidence is the mild pain-relieving effect it can have, which can get you off to sleep the first night after the race. Good-quality sleep can reduce cortisol levels and aids muscle tissue recovery. Try for eight to ten hours a night in the days after your marathon.”
  • Compress yourself. “Compression leggings have been found to improve blood circulation and reduce soreness while you sleep so it might be time to invest in a pair of compression tights,” says Ferris. “Try on a few pairs before you buy though because you don’t want to be so warm that you can’t sleep.”

The Next Day

  • Keep moving. “Avoid being in a static position for too long, apart from when sleeping,” says Scorer. “Take a 15- to 30-minute walk or a gentle cycle.”
  • “Continue eating balanced meals,” says Scorer. Protein, carbs and plenty of veg will help your body recover.
  • “Gently massage and stretch your calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads,” says Scorer. If you’re not sure what to do, you can try following a YouTube video of stretches for runners. If you have a foam roller you can try this foam rolling routine, but do it gently.

72 Hours After

  • “After the first 72 hours you should be over the worst, but that doesn’t mean you should start running again,” says Scorer. “The earliest you should consider running is seven days after the event, but the optimum recovery time is 14 days. If you can, hold off from running and restrict yourself to low-impact activities instead.”
  • “Start with five to seven days of relative rest and gentle, active recovery,” says Ferris. “You want to be mobilizing stiff joints that have seized up but avoid stretching any particularly painful areas. Reactive tendinopathy is a common response to increased running—remember you have probably just done 10% longer than your longest training run. That stress to the tendons means they need time to recover, sometimes as long as 12 weeks.”

Recovery Products To Consider

You can recover from a marathon without spending a penny on specialist kit, but there are some products that might just make the process a little easier.

Foam rollers

Foam rollers are the cheapest route to massaging your muscles back to life, and though foam rolling is not exactly a pleasant experience, it’s certainly effective. Here’s advice on how to use a foam roller as well as our picks of the best foam rollers.

Massage guns

Those looking for a more high-tech approach may wish to consider massage guns. These are very expensive and the claimed benefits are yet to be backed up by a robust body of scientific evidence; however, they are an easier and less painful way to massage your muscles than foam rolling, and that is something a lot of runners might appreciate. We’ve reviewed models from all the leading brands and ranked them in our round-up of the best massage guns.

Compression socks

You can take a more passive approach to your recovery by using compression socks, or even tights, which you can slip on to help keep the blood circulating through your muscles as you go about your business. They are particularly handy for those who need to travel or sit at a desk the day after a marathon. Find a pair with our guide to the best compression socks

Recovery shake

In the immediate aftermath of your marathon it’s also worth considering using a recovery protein powder. Unlike most protein powders, these contain all the key nutrients your body needs to kick-start the recovery process. See the results of our taste test in our selection of the best recovery protein powders.

Recovery shoes

Having a pair of recovery shoes handy to slip on after the race is also wise, because you’ll be keen to take off your race shoes and put on something more comfortable. Here’s our survey of the best recovery shoes.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.