I cannot stress enough about how important recovery is. In the critical weeks following a marathon we’re more prone to injury and illness and you take this part of the training too lightly you might regret it! Experts recommend taking one recovery day for every mile we race – for the marathon this means approximately 26 recovery days. That doesn’t mean to not exercise at all. Active rest is the best way to recover after a long endurance event. Stay active with low-impact workouts like swimming and bicycling. And when you feel ready to run, start with some light running and build up your milage slowly, like a reverse tapering.
First of all, I’d like to mention that it’s normal to experience the post-marathon blues. if you really think about it, it totally make sense! For the last four months you’ve been focusing with one goal, planning every little details, your life basically was revolving around this training. You gave up a lot of things so you could achieve this goal. And when it’s over you feel a certain kind of loss. Now what? Should I start planning something else? I compare this feeling to the feeling I had after my wedding. When you plan a wedding, for a long time is occupied working hard to make this colossal life event memorable and then its over before you know it that leaves you with a feeling of sadness. The key to avoid too much empty downtime is to have an afterwards plan. After finishing the Marathon, you should have goals for your recovery plan and to keep your days occupied. For example, start up a new project. I decided I want to frame my bib number and medal, connect with friends, sleep more, get ready for our vacation to Italy, and start to think about new goals.
Training for and completing the 26.2 mile marathon distance is physically punishing. Immediately after the race you will experience muscle or connective tissue soreness and stiffness. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) that usually begins 8 or more hours after exercise and may last 3-4 days, sometimes a week. It seems that what cause DOMS after a Marathon is the consumtion of energy reserves and the accumulation of fluids in the muscles. Some runners take an anti-inflammatory, but that actually slow down the recovery process. My best advice is to take nothing, and get out and move to let that blood flowing in your legs. Enjoy the feeling that come with your great achievement. Allow your body to physically recover and then, if the spirit moves you, start planning ahead for another race.
Here is few tips to speed up the recovery process and get back to your regular running routine.
Marathon recovery START at the FINISH!
- Cool down after finishing is very important. Runners should not stop suddenly or lay down after they cross the finish line but they should keep walking for at least 10 minutes or so. In this way they will allow their body to gradually return to its normal resting state avoiding their blood pressure dropping to quickly causing leg cramps, nausea or even fainting.
- Eat something as soon as you can! Research indicates that muscle glycogen is replaced twice as faster (faster recovery) in the first hour or two following depletion. Most of the races, especially marathons, provide “goodie” bags for finishers, take advantage of that!
- Drink lost of fluid, especially ones rich in electrolytes, to replenish your potassium and sodium stores for normal cell and nerve function. Drinking fluids will also help flush the waste products from the body.
- An ice bath immediately following the event will help reduce the inflammation in the muscles. Just fill up the bathtub with cold water enough to cover your feet, legs, hips, and waist. Wear a shirt or towel to keep your upper body warm and then have someone else add the ice. Sit in the cold tub for five to eight minutes. I never had the courage to do it but Dustin remember doing it to his arm when he played baseball in college and how much it helped him. It will make a huge different in muscle soreness and it will speed up the recovery. Avoid long soaks in hot water instead, that may cause swelling and aggravate the DOMS.
- Adding a little extra protein to your diet for the week after the race will help speed up recovery. Protein is the key ingredient with muscle development, so with the breakdown during the marathon, extra protein will definitely help. Also, keep in mind for the first few days following your big race you should give into your cravings, your body knows what it needs. Mine needed ice cream so I gave it to it=)
- Consider scheduling a massage . Getting a massage at the finish may sound like a great idea, but it can cause more soreness, which is not going to help your goal to walk normally the morning after. But getting a massage later in the week can have a dramatic effect on post-race recovery times. You can also perform your own with some of the products on the market like “The Stick” and foam rollers.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep…this is the time the body best repairs itself.
- Actively recover with easy and gentle exercises that that won’t stress your muscles, like walking, swimming, yoga, or biking. Movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. Light activity helps recover faster than inactivity. So, keep moving!
- As the stiffness and soreness reduce, you can start to slowly build up your runs. Reverse taper your training – Start with a short slow run and gradually build up.