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What to do at the end of your Marathon?

Marathon recovery guide

Whether it is your first or your 10th marathon, a recovery strategy is important, especially if you plan to continue to run and even train for others. IN some ways it is worth considering the idea that you have not fully completed the run until you have been through a recovery process.

So why is the recovery so important?

Just completing a marathon takes a lot of physical and mental effort as well as the consistent training. But because it is so taxing, if you get back into your training too soon you run the risk of injuries and other more insidious overtraining issues.

But how long should you wait? There is not definitive answer to this as it depends on each individual runner and also the nature of the event itself, i.e is it a hilly course, or flat, long and straight or winding; was it hot, cold, windy? All of these play a significant part in the decisions making process of recovery. There are also factors like age, sex, fitness, general health, nutritional status and hydration. The given the above the same person may also need different strategies for different events.

The general rule of thumb is to take 7 days off just to allow for recovery though even 10-14 might be a better number. As a general note if you are still sore and fatigued then do not run. Some studies have shown that it can take the body up to 4 weeks to recover fully while muscle damage can linger for 14 days leading to loss of muscle power. In addition the immune system is also compromised so you will need to limit your efforts as well as easting a well rounded diet or fresh fruit, vegetables as well as good sources of protein.

  • Your recovery begins at the finish line. Having been serious about your training be serious about looking after yourself in the immediate aftermath.

  • Once you cross the line, keep moving. Don’t drop in a heap. You see some people do that but be disciplined, keep moving for about 10-15mins. This allows the circulating blood to continue to flow at a good rate to clean out the metabolic by-products of exercise, bringing essentials like nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. This in itself helps with the healing process and may even reduce the intensity of the sore muscles you might possible get in the days after the run.

  • Do not stretch. You have already damaged your muscles in running 26.2 miles. Stretch will just add to that as it produces micro-tears. The best time to do that is in the days after the run. Slow gentle static stretches held for 15-30 seconds.

  • Eat as soon as possible. Carbohydrates and proteins are the order of the day. These can help with energy restoration as well as healing. If you really cannot face solids then go for a good recovery sport drink which is high in protein as well as carbs.

  • Drink, even if you have been drinking on your run. You can tell your hydration state by the colour of your urine. Within 24 hours you ought to be back to a pale yellow.

  • Get dressed. Get out of your damp clothes, get something warm on so you do not begin to shiver which contributes to energy loss by getting your muscles to twitch uncontrollably.

  • Avoid anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Your internal organs like liver, kidneys and intestines have already been stressed by the run. Taking painkillers can delay your recovery and put more stress on these organs. Let nature take its course.

  • Take is easy on the celebratory drinks. It is tempting to have a beer but again the alcohol can slow down the recovery by delaying the absorption or carbs and protein as wells contributing to dehydration. The calories in alcohol are useless, they do not contribute to anything and are thus automatically stored as fat. One won’t hurt but take is slowly.

  • Go to sleep. You might have been up early to get to the start, you may have slept badly the night before so a few hours kip will aid in the recovery process and try to get to bed early for a full night’s sleep.

  • You will have seen plenty of runners wearing compression socks while running. You may even do so yourself. Continue to wear these sorts of things post race to improve venous blood return and also potentially reducing muscle soreness, fatigue and stiffness.

  • Don’t just sit down for the next few days. Stay active with light reduced weight bearing exercise like swimming or using an exercise bike, Even a cross trainer would be fine since the effort is less and the pounding is minimal.

  • Try to find a good massage therapist who understands the requirements of post marathon muscles. It should not be too firm and should also include movements of the limbs to restore good range of motion to the joints, especially the legs and low bak but also shoulders and neck. Try not to be too heavy on foam rolling if you have one. These can be very firm types of massage and this would be ideal post marathon. Use of a jacuzzi would also be indicated here.

  • You have probably all heard about the use of ice baths for health and recovery and there is no doubt using one of these or even alternating between warm and cool would be good. The cold water stimulates your autonomic nervous system and cals down your fight and flight mode. It also stimulates your immune system. Contrast bathing is similar but it ‘exercises’ your blood vessels. Warm followed by cool is the ideal and finish with the cool. The idea being that the cool will narrow your blood vessels so when you get out your body will want to warm up thus opening your blood vessels wider than normal for longer than normal, bringing much needed blood, oxygen, nutrients etc to all areas.

You are probably thinking this is a bit premature if you are doing the London marathon but better to have a plan now and be able to implement it as soon as you finish than to wait a couple of days and then work out what to do.


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