Did you train consistently for the past few months and complete your first half-marathon? Congratulations! Now it’s time to celebrate – and to recover. As soon as you cross the finish line, you can start taking steps to reduce muscle soreness, rebuild your body’s fuel supply, and get back to your normal routine sooner rather than later. Here’s what to do – and when to do it – to bounce back from your big day.
When leaving the finishing chute
Keep walking! Movement helps the heart pump fresh, oxygen-rich blood through your body. Avoid stopping or sitting for at least 30 minutes post-race. Walk to the food tent to start the refuelling process – have about 1255 kilojoules of simple carbs (some sports drink and a banana) within a half hour of finishing.
Back at home or your hotel
Soak your legs in a cool bath for 15 minutes to reduce inflammation. Walk around for 10 to 30 minutes, two or three times during the afternoon. Between your walks, recline with your legs elevated. Eat small meals every two to three hours – aim to get 25 per cent of kilojoules from protein, 20 per cent from fat, and the rest from complex carbs. And drink water or sports drink – your urine should be pale yellow.
In the days after
Continue to hydrate. Massage sore muscles with your hands or a foam roller for five minutes each day. If you’re really suffering, ask your doctor whether anti-inflammatory medication might help. Every other day, do this gentle workout to encourage bloodflow to recovering muscles: walk for 10 minutes, run a few seconds each minute for 10 to 20 minutes, and finish with 10 minutes of walking.
In the weeks after
Gradually add running time to your every-other-day workouts until you’re back to where you were before the race. On non-running days, walk or do gentle cross-training. If you are eager to participate in another race, wait at least three weeks before doing a 5K, and four to six weeks before doing anything longer.
Q & A
Is a post-race massage worth it?
Massage can speed recovery. But if your race has a free massage tent for finishers, skip it if it’s staffed by massage students, who may not have the experience necessary to deal with very tired running legs and feet. It’s better to wait one to three days and see an experienced sports-massage therapist.
I need to travel for a few hours to get home after my race. What can I do to prevent stiffness and soreness?
Wear compression sleeves on your calves. During your trip, stand up and walk around every 30 to 60 minutes, for five to 10 minutes at a time. Pack fluids and snacks to ensure you’re refuelling properly while you’re in transit.
How do I keep up my momentum?
Pick a new goal. After your race, you’ll need to recover, but you don’t want to take so much time off that you lose the fitness you worked to build. Avoid this by setting a post-race goal before you get to the starting line. You may want to work on your speed, or try a new distance. Or, you can choose a non-racing goal: see how many days in a row you can exercise, mentor a friend to a first 5K, or try to reach your healthiest weight.