By DAN LYNE
Congratulations! Hopefully you successfully completed your marathon or are within a few days of the big race. No matter what your finishing time is, as long as you gave it your best through the journey (which includes the entire training cycle and the race), then I think you should count your marathon as a success. Along with the joy of having accomplished such an awesome athletic feat, you will likely feel sore and exhausted. Hopefully you’re hooked and want to run another marathon. It could be the same race in a year or possibly a different race. Completing a 26 mile race is an extreme test of endurance that takes a lot out of your body. It takes many weeks to prepare for this race. Barring any injuries, your best strategy for full recovery starts in the first 30 minutes after the race and should last for the next 3-4 weeks, before you start training for the next event.
Some of the same recovery tactics discussed in my last article apply for post marathon. In general, I strongly suggest a few weeks with little running and some easy training (bike or elliptical) to help your body recover. There’s little for you to gain by rushing back into training within days of a marathon. Your risk of injury is high due the reduced resiliency of your muscles after running 26 miles.
Day of Race Recovery
Within 30 minutes of finishing the race, you need to consume some calories right away. Typically there’s plenty of food available after the finish line. I prefer to eat easily digested high-carbohydrate foods such as bananas, bagels or even protein bars. Others want to drink their calories. Whatever you are craving, go ahead and have it because the important thing is to get some calories into your body. The window for this optimal recovery is small, so take advantage of what’s offered near the finish line. Don’t hesitate to grab some snacks for later. You’re dehydrated, your blood glucose is low and you need to replace electrolytes. In addition to solid food consumption, I recommend water and sports drinks.
After you have left the post-race celebration area, head back home or to the hotel and get off your feet for an hour and then get cleaned up, stretch again and get in some comfortable clothes and shoes. Consider wearing compression socks or tights. I take an ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, but that’s my personal preference. You should be ready for a lunch that consists of carbohydrates and protein. Choose nutritious foods like fruits, whole grains, vegetables and your favorite protein source like red meat, chicken or fish. Continue to hydrate and replace calories the rest of the day. In fact, drinking plenty of water throughout the week after your race is one of the best things you can do to ensure proper recovery.
Your mobility will likely be a challenged the first few days after the race and possibly longer if you just completed your first marathon. What you do the day of the race to recover is critical. Later in the afternoon, I like to stretch, put my feet up a bit and do anything to reduce inflammation and soreness like sitting in an ice bath for 5-10 minutes followed later by 5-10 minutes in a hot tub.
Week 1 Recovery
It’s probable that the morning after your race, you will have a lot of difficulty walking down stairs. This is common. Taking a break from running is actually helpful to your recovery. However, if you have access to a flat 2-3 mile route, try to walk/easy jog for 20 – 30 minutes on the day after the marathon. The goal is to boost circulation and provide gentle blood flow to your legs which helps bring healing nutrients into your muscles and will also help to remove waste products and damaged tissue. Walking, light running and gentle massage can help. However, if you have an injury or are experiencing any kind of pain (not general soreness) that prevents you from any prolonged walking/running, don’t bother. Along with some stretching, completing this easy workout on day 1 is something that I have done the day after all of my marathons, because I believe it shortens my overall recovery time.
I recommend taking the rest of the week off from running, with only some short (20-25 minutes) non-impact exercises on an elliptical or stationary bike. The other critical element of week 1 recovery is to drink a lot of water. Post marathon soreness typically disappears by the end of the week. However, damage within the muscle cells remain, so it’s important to continue with a full recovery plan.
Week 2 and Beyond
Following schedule outlines 4 weeks of post marathon recovery workouts. The first week is very “light.” Although I show some short runs starting in week 2, if your body is still sore, continue with the cross/low-impact training. Otherwise, keep your effort easy and the distance short (30-60 minutes). In weeks 3-4, the runs are a little longer and a little faster. By week 4 you will move closer to your regular level of training. It’s essential that you don’t jump back into training for another race too soon. Typically the soonest I race after a marathon is 3 months. This is particularly important for less experienced and runners that are 40+ years old.
Other Recovery Notes
- Proper hydration is essential. Continue to drink plenty of water for the entire week after the marathon.
- Use a foam roller later in week 1. Go slow/easy with the rolling. Avoid rolling on any area(s) that may be injured (as opposed to rolling on areas that are simply tight or sore).
- Consider your recovery as if it’s a “reverse” taper without the speed work. The first 2 weeks after the marathon should almost “mirror” the two weeks prior to the race.
- Pay attention to how your body feels and get back to your training accordingly, just no sooner than 3 weeks.
Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on the author’s personal experience and thorough personal studies. The information provided here is designed to help you make informed decisions about your health. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment that may have been prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. All forms of exercise pose some inherent risks. The author advises readers to take full responsibility for their safety and know their limits. There is no guarantee that you will experience the same results & benefits as presented and you accept the risk that the results can differ by individual.