Whether you ran 42.2 kilometres at a small local event or logged your KMs virtually over the past year, completing a marathon is an accomplishment to feel proud of. But when the hard work is over, there is still one important step left: recovery.
Post-marathon recovery is not as simple as sleeping on your bed for as long as possible. (Though rest is certainly encouraged!) There are a host of variables that can affect your recovery, such as the intensity of the race, the elements, your health, and the training season. Everyone is different, but there are several post-marathon recovery strategies you can employ that will aid in speeding up the rate of recovery so you’re not stuck limping around and avoiding stairs all week.
Just Keep Walking
Cross the finish line, get your medal, take a picture, and keep walking. Although the first instinct may be to drop to your knees and thank the gods that you’ve finished, that isn’t the best way to go with marathon recovery. Think about it: You’ve just asked your body to run 42 KMs. It’s still in marathon mode when you finish and greatly needs to transition back to normal life.
By walking, your heart rate gradually drops, the circulation diverts back to its resting state and flushes lactic acid from the muscles. Walk at least 10 to 15 minutes—back to your car, hotel, or cab to downshift gently.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Eat a small snack within the first 30 to 60 minutes postrace. Save the big meal for later in the day when your appetite returns, and you can enjoy that celebration. The time immediately after the race is more about getting in about 200 to 300 easily-digestible calories from carbohydrates and protein to maintain blood sugar levels, replenish muscle glycogen, and repair muscle tissue.
Half of a turkey sandwich, carrots, and almond butter or pretzels will do the trick. If it’s a hot race, try a liquid recovery drink. If it’s cold, soup gets the job done. Continue to nibble on balanced snacks and meals that are made up of a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein all day. Sip fluids throughout the day to rehydrate.
Get a Leg Up
Take five to 10 minutes to do the yoga pose, “Legs Up on the Wall,” or Viparita Karani. It reverses circulation to refresh your legs, gently stretches the lower body muscles, and is a great way to internally celebrate your race.
Stretch, Roll, and Massage
Wait at least two to six hours after the race to stretch and foam roll and at least 24 hours for a massage. This allows your muscles time to replenish fluids and energy lost and recover from the demands of the race.
Give Yourself a Break
One of the most common mistakes runners make is running too soon after a marathon. Think of the marathon like a car accident (pleasant, huh?). Your body has been through a tough season of training and 42.2 kilometres on the road. The best way to recover is not to do more damage by going out for a run the next day (that is your ego talking).
Take the day to celebrate. Schedule a massage and do some light walking and stretching. Or tear a page from a good running book and take a month off to recover, do yoga, and cross-train.
For guidance, try this four-week plan:
Week 1: Cross-train, rest, and test the waters.
Invest the first week in short, light effort, low-impact cross-training activities that will boost circulation, warm your muscles, and aid in the healing journey (think: walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga). If all feels well later that week, run a short, easy-effort run (30 minutes) to test the waters.
Week 2: Run short and easy.
If things still hurt, keep cross-training and let it simmer. If you feel good, start back to your normal running frequency in week two, but keep the effort easy and the distance shorter (30 to 60 minutes).
Week 3: Run longer and a little faster.
If things are still going well and your body feels good, ease back into distance and intensity in week three.
Week 4: Return to regular volume or training.
Now that you’ve slowly got your body back into a regular running routine, you can return to your pre-marathon schedule if you feel good. If you’re running multiple races in one season it is vital to invest in optimal recovery time.