Do you have a half-marathon/marathon recovery plan?

As Sports Physios, we deal with running injuries all year. But we tend to see a few injury spikes each year – one in February (NY resolution + too much enthusiasm = injury) and another spike around 4-6 weeks after any major marathon including the Sydney Marathon events.


Well, the race is done, hopefully it was a success, and running was a big part of your lifestyle before the race so naturally you want to get back out there.

Your regular loop was a 10k so off you go. But what this plan doesn’t account for is that your muscle glycogen, the muscle’s in-house fuel of choice, has been used up in large quantities with your race. And when your petrol tanks hits empty mid-run, you still trudge on with poor technique and add further overload to the bones, joints, muscles and tendons that were still trying to recover from the race. And that, unfortunately, leads to injury.

But all is not lost…we have a plan!

Running load

You need to run/train to open the channels that allow muscle glycogen stores to restock. You just need to stop running before you run out of energy. As a rule of thumb, you need to wait 1 day  for every race mile. So:

Half marathon = 21km or 13 miles = 2 weeks recovery

Marathon = 42km or 26 miles = 4 weeks recovery

But you can’t just wait for your recovery phase to end and attack your training as normal. The recovery time relies on a steady build up and restocking phase. So for a marathon, week 1 aims for 25% of your weekly running load, week 2 = 50% and so on back to 100%.

Recovery plan

During your recovery window, you need to ensure you cover all the bases to be able to return to training without any deficits or niggles. So here’s my quick tips:

  • Nutrition – don’t be afraid to reward yourself with a donut and a beer post-race but you need to switch back to athlete mode soon after. Eat well, especially before and after your training runs, and be vigilant to monitor any warning signs of depleted energy levels (tiredness, feeling flat, etc).
  • Ignore the scales – your weight can do strange things post-race. Ignore the numbers for the first week while your body returns to its normal state of equilibrium.
  • Massage – treat yourself and help shake any post-race soreness/tightness as quickly as possible.
  • Walk – considered a cardinal sin during your race, a nice walk is a great low risk way to loosen the legs. And if you did the marathon, it’s a nice chance to socialise and meet your family (again).

Warning signs

Once you think you’re back to 100%, the best monitoring tools have nothing to do with pace. Keep an eye on:

  • Average HR during a regular run – complete your usual loop in the same time as training and compare average HR. Small variations are OK (can be due to hydration, heat, etc).
  • HR recovery – check your HR at 1min and 3min post-run. Given the same intensity of run, it should settle as quickly as pre-race. If not, you’re not ready for 100% just yet.
  • Morning-after soreness – if you have any undue soreness the morning after a training run, or if you have any one-sided soreness, delay your return to full load until it’s no longer occurring.

Written by

Pete Colagiuri
Sports Physiotherapist

Pete has over 20 years experience as a Physiotherapist and specialises in running biomechanics and complex injuries. He believes that you must identify and fix the underlying cause of an injury, to recover faster, prevent recurrences and improve performance.

Pete Colagiuri - Sports Physio