The Gist of It
- Recovery time is essential, as doing it wrong could leave you with injuries.
- Get adequate food, fluids, and sleep after the marathon.
- To get back to optimal shape, start slow with low impact exercises.
You’ve just crossed the finish line, you earned that Finishers Medal around your neck, you’ve hit a new personal best, and you’re in a state of euphoria……and then what?
Many marathon runners make the common mistake of not recovering optimally after the race. Your post-marathon recovery plan begins immediately after you cross the finish line. I was no master when it came to post marathon recovery, having made many bad decisions and went against everything in the rule book. But we all learn from our mistakes.
Here are a few things that you can do to help your body bounce back into shape.
After Crossing the Finishing Line:
1. Cool down with a slow jog
A short cool down (slow jog) of about 10-15 minutes is essential. Depending on the race day set up, it may not always be convenient to do so. Just make sure you don’t stop abruptly after crossing the finishing line. I felt light headed and sick in the stomach because I came to a complete stop after having been running for a few hours which caused my blood pressure to drop.
2. Drink up (but not too quickly)
Remember to replenish lost fluids. Pick the ones rich in glucose and electrolytes (100plus, Revive, Gatorade, PowerBar Recovery drink). I drank too much too soon (1.5L in 30 mins) and ended up puking. This is dangerous as it would further deplete your body’s fluids leading to dehydration. Take in about 500ml every 30mins-1 hour. This will also help in flushing out waste products from the body. Drink up!
3. Eat something within 1 hour of finishing
Snack on something within the next 1 hour even if you don’t have the appetite for it. You have to get some food in your system as muscle glycogen is rapidly replaced within the first 1-2 hours. Most marathons provide runners with some bananas or apples at the finish line. Eat up to maintain blood sugar levels! You can eat a big meal after to replace everything else that you’ve lost during the run.
4. Don’t stretch too much
Try not to stretch your tired muscles too much as this may lead to injury. If something hurts, ice the area immediately for about 15 minutes to reduce the inflammation. Massage areas or the medical tent should offer everything you need to attend to your injury.
The Following Week:
5. Take time off running
The biggest mistake you can make is running too soon after a marathon. Scheduling in time for recovery is just as crucial as planning your next workout. After months of training and completing the marathon itself, the body needs time to return back to “normal”. It has gone through an intense session of physical stress and the last thing you want to do is to put it under more stress. Even during your recovery period, your body is not at rest. It is busy breaking down, repairing, refuelling and recovering.
6. Go for low-impact workouts
You need to find the ultimate balance between activity and inactivity. Engage in an activity that would decrease muscle stiffness/soreness and encourage blood circulation. After a marathon, there will be an accumulation of lactic acid and fluid in the muscles. Increased circulation to the area will help to remove the excess fluid and built up waste whilst enriching the area with nutrients and oxygen. Focus on low impact workouts that require minimal effort. For example, a light jog on a soft surface (grass, track).
Post-Marathon Activities / Workouts
The key is to start slow! You will initially feel the pinch on your energy levels. Stop your workout if you have to. Do a bit of light stretching for about 10-15 minutes every day. This will help to increase blood circulation and to loosen up any tight areas. My hamstrings were screaming in pain for at least 2 weeks post marathon. Try not to engage in any hard workouts by signing up for races in the weeks following a marathon. You can start to slowly build up mileage and intensity over the next few weeks if you feel good.
As you rest and eat well post marathon, you may begin to feel ready and strong to take on the next race. I had back to back races the week after my marathon. Wrong call! For the first race, I felt strong and fresh. 5KM into the race and my hamstrings were already crying for help. It was a trail run and the hills were STEEP! It was the first time that I had to walk in a race. It was tough and I was completely drained after that.
Cross train by engaging in different activities. You can do anything from swimming to cycling, as long as it doesn’t put too much stress on your legs. I did 20-30 minutes of swimming every other day to get my muscles warmed up.
Enjoy your favourite meals throughout the week. Make sure you eat well balanced meals with 3-4 parts of carbohydrates and 1 part protein to replenish your muscle’s glycogen stores and to rebuild damaged tissues and cells respectively. Choose good quality carbohydrates (complex) and proteins.
If you crave for particular foods, satisfy those cravings. Your body knows what it needs. And you deserve it. I was craving for foods that were high in fat (burger and fries) for 2 weeks! Eat whatever is pleasing to your eyes. Continue to hydrate well. Eat and drink to strengthen your immune system which has been severely compromised post marathon.
Sleep like a baby! Your body recovers and repairs itself when it is in full rest. You may feel as though your body has been hit by a truck! This fatigue may last over a week. I fell sick 2 weeks after the marathon because I suffered from insomnia. I had about 4-5 hours of sleep every day over the 2nd week and my body eventually gave up. Go to bed early to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
My ideal post marathon treat would be a full body massage. I went for a deep Thai aromatherapy massage a week after the marathon and it was the best thing ever. You may also want to indulge in a facial session as your skin has been exposed to the harmful UV rays over a few hours on the road. Just kick your feet up. Go for that long awaited holiday. Do whatever, just TREAT YOURSELF!
Recovery and rest are the last things in any runner’s book. It takes a great deal to convince a runner to take off days. Many runners have this extreme fear that taking days off the road would severely affect their hard earned fitness.
After all the months of training, resting seems like a curve ball to their normal routine. However, if you’re going to be in it for the long run, it would be a good idea to take time off from running (to prevent injuries) post marathon, even if you’re faced with the reality of decrease in fitness. Take it from me, REST!
Have another way of recovering? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!