Marathon Recovery: the First 24 hours

Q  I am running a marathon this weekend and then flying Sunday night to an early morning business meeting Monday. Do you have any magic post-marathon recovery tips that might help me avoid walking like John Wayne into that meeting? – MEG

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A  Good luck in your marathon this weekend Meg! Yes, there are plenty of recovery strategies you can implement post-marathon that will help you walk softly Monday morning.

Timing is everything, and recovery begins the minute you cross the finish line. Get your photo and your medal and keep walking. You’ve just asked your body to run for hours and stopping abruptly shocks the system and encourages muscle lock-up and blood pooling in your legs. Try to walk at least 10 minutes post-race to allow your body to gradually return to its normal resting state. Get up and walk around 10-15 minutes every few hours for the rest of the day.

Within 30 minutes of finishing, refuel with carbohydrates with lean protein and salt. It doesn’t have to be a full meal, but research indicates that recovery rates are faster if you consume carbohydrates and protein at a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. If you can’t eat post-race, pack a recovery drink in your gear check bag. It can be easier to digest and aids in re-hydration.

Put yourself on ice soon after the race. Many elite athletes like Paula Radcliffe take advantage of the miracles of ice post-race and take a cold bath because it immediately begins to reduce inflammation in your legs. Ice bath recipe: Fill a tub with lukewarm water – enough to cover your feet, legs, hips and waist. Wear a shirt or towel to keep your upper body warm. Add ice cubes until the water is cold. Sit in the cold tub for five to eight minutes. The colder the water, the shorter the time you should sit in the tub.

Sip fluids throughout the day to replenish losses. Use the “pee” test to monitor adequate hydration levels. If your urine is pale yellow like lemonade, you are adequately hydrated. Continue to replenish fuel and electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium). A bowl of soup is a great recovery meal. Hydrate adequately on the flight as well.

Take a normal dose of anti-inflammatory one to two hours post-race with food.

Consider scheduling a massage if you have the time but wait at least two hours post-race. 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 Monday morning. Massage can have a dramatic effect on post-race recovery times. You can also perform your own self massage with some of the products on the market like The Stick and foam rollers. They are a convenient way to give yourself a deep tissue massage on your hamstrings, calves, thighs, ITB and hips.

Once you’ve checked into the gate at the airport, walk the terminal long enough to warm your muscles and do some stretching to keep your legs loose.

Continue to eat small meals every few hours to continue to re-stock your muscles with energy and repair muscle damage. Pack a meal for the flight and bring a few snacks for the night.

While on the flight, move and stretch your legs every 15 to 20 minutes. You can do this in your seat (if there is turbulence) or get up and walk to the back and stretch while standing.

Skip the alcohol and go for a tomato juice as it is filled with vitamin C and sodium which will continue to aid in balancing your system.

Get up early Monday morning, take a warm shower, and do some light stretching to loosen your muscles. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes (and still stylish!) and wear that marathon medal to the meeting. Remember you have 42.2 days of bragging rights and this would be a good time to use those rights! You never know… you may inspire someone in that meeting to run a marathon next year!

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