How to Recover From Your First Marathon

<p>Kena Betancur / Getty Images</p>

Kena Betancur / Getty Images

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

Key Takeaways

  • Sports medicine experts say marathon runners should consume two to three drinks with electrolytes, along with plain water, during the race.

  • Keep moving after crossing the finish line to avoid exercise-induced collapse.

  • Plan to take two weeks off from running after the marathon for proper recovery.

Even after training for months, it can be hard to believe that your first marathon is here when race day arrives.

The 2014 Walt Disney Marathon was my first time running 26.2 miles. It was a magical experience not just because of the setting, but the sense of accomplishment I felt after crossing the finish line is something I’ll never forget.

Since then, I ran two more marathons, the last one being the New York City Marathon in 2022. The rush I felt from running through my favorite city in the world with thousands of spectators cheering me on reminded me of the sheer joy that can only come from a marathon.

But running a marathon is really tough on the body. After all, the ancient Greek legend that inspired the modern marathon ends with the original marathon runner dying at the end.

If you’re a first-time marathon runner, you don’t need to worry about the mythology, but here are some practical tips that will help you recover physically and mentally after pushing your body to the limit.

Related: These Marathon Runners Didn't Let Chronic Liver Disease Slow Them Down

Recovery Begins Before You Reach the Finish Line

With a curated playlist to listen to and motivational signs to read along the course, marathon runners have a lot of mental distractions during the race. But don’t forget about hydrating.

Most marathons have fluid stations that offer water and sports drinks.

“You don’t want to over-consume straight water. Because sweat has a lot of salt in it, you want to make sure that you’re drinking an electrolyte replacement drink that actually has sodium in it,” Melissa Leber, MD, director of emergency department sports medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told Verywell.

Electrolytes, like sodium, help with muscle contractions and hydration. Drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes could lead to exercise-induced hyponatremia, causing symptoms like nausea, headaches, vomiting, or seizures. While this condition is rare, it seems to be more common in women with a low body weight, especially if they don’t have a lot of experience in long-distance endurance events.

“For the average person during the marathon, have two to three drinks with salt in them, and then the rest could be just straight water,” Leber said.

Related: How to Spot the Signs of Dehydration

Check In With Your Gut

In addition to checking the course map in advance for fluid stations, you should also pay attention to the available toilets along the route. As someone who had never experienced runner’s gut, I was very surprised when I started cramping and burping in the middle of the New York City marathon.

During a marathon, you could experience heartburn, bloating, burping, abdominal cramping, or even diarrhea. An estimated 30–90% of endurance athletes, including long-distance runners, have gastrointestinal distress during their events.

Blood moves from your gut during the race, which is why some people experience these gastrointestinal issues, Leber explained.

Some research has suggested that maintaining the right fluid balance—with both water and electrolyte-containing beverages—and consuming enough carbohydrates may help reduce gastrointestinal issues during and after the marathon. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30–60 grams of carbohydrates each hour for endurance events.

Carbohydrates are also necessary for recovery. You should consume a carbohydrate snack or drink 20–30 minutes after the race and a full meal within two hours of finishing the race, Leber said.

Related: The 8 Best Water Bottles of 2023

Keep Moving After the Marathon

When I reached mile 25, all I could think about was it was just 1.2 miles to go to get to the finish line. I never considered how much further I would have to go after that.

Many marathons, including New York City, have a long post-finish line shoot that runners have to walk through to collect their medals, snacks, and fluids before they can exit the race. I really wanted to stop there—after all, I’d just put my body through a grueling 26.2-mile race—but it’s better to keep moving.

“When the athlete crosses the finish line, and then they stand still, blood pools down in their legs and it could cause the blood vessels in their legs to swell or dilate, and it causes them to pass out because the blood is not being returned back to their heart,” Leber said.

If you feel lightheaded, you can lie down and put your legs up above your head to prevent dizziness, Leber added.

Otherwise, keep walking through the shoot, and keep doing some light exercises in the next few days. Take two weeks off from running, Leber said, but keep moving your body with other cross-training activities.

“After my first marathon, I was very sore initially but started to feel better after about a week, so I started running again,” Tammy Locke, 33, a seven-time marathon runner, told Verywell.

However, a few weeks later she started feeling pain everywhere and had to stop exercising completely for a while. High-impact activities, like running, could increase your risk for injury if your body has not fully recovered from the physical stress of the marathon.

Locke said her post-marathon recovery plan now includes rest, water, and some light exercise like using the elliptical, walking, or swimming.

“Let your body heal properly before you get back out there, it will take time, but you deserve the break,” Locke said.

Read Next: I Tried the 12-3-30 Workout. Here's Why I Won't Do It 5 Days a Week Again.

What This Means For You

Check in with your body after the marathon. Even if you didn’t get injured during the race, consider speaking with a healthcare provider if you experience any intense pain in the days or weeks following the race.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.