Marathoners: “For the day you’ve just had” 5 Tips for Post Marathon Recovery
If you’re reading this, having just completed a marathon, let us start by saying Congratulations! You did it! You’ve actually run 26.2 miles! Crossing that finish line is something you will have dreamt about for weeks, months, maybe even years and now it’s become reality! The hours of preparation were all worth it; the training programmes, when to have rest days, what clothes to wear, what shoes to put on, what to eat the morning of, how to get there, what pace you should adopt, what the weather will be like, what time you will finish and now it’s over! Right…? Not quite! One of the most critical stages of your marathon journey is yet to come – your recovery! It is absolutely vital that you devote as much attention to this part of the process as you did to your training.
When you cross that finish line you will inevitably be overwhelmed with emotion, elation and euphoria but exhaustion, muscle cell damage and a weakened immune system are also part of the post marathon celebration package. This is the case whether you’re a first time marathoner or a professional; after running 26.2miles it happens to us all!
Your legs will suddenly feel like jelly, incapable of taking another step and you’ll have aches and pains in muscles and bones you never knew you had. Think Wet, Wet Wet and their song “Love is all around”; you may “feel it in your fingers” and you’ll definitely, “feel it in your toes”, and your knees, your ankles, your calves, your thighs and just about every other part of your body!
For the frequent marathoners, you will have known this was coming. The adrenaline from having just finished will compensate for, at least some of, the pain and you will already be planning your next marathon; raring to get back to training as soon as poss. For the rest of you, you’ll feel like you’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson and whilst some may have enjoyed the challenge and be contemplating another, others will be thinking “been there, done that, got the “sweaty” t-shirt and you won’t catch me doing it again!” Either way, you will all want to get back on your feet, even if not in your running shoes, as soon as possible.
Your recovery is a fine balance between remaining active, but not overdoing it, and recovery time will vary from person to person as quite literally every-body is different. So, we’ve put together some useful tips for both immediately after the race (our “sooner” tips) and for the following days and weeks (our “later” tips) to get you back into tip top shape, or at least up and down the stairs again, asap!
Tip 1: Keep it moving!
Sooner: Resist the urge to collapse in a heap when you cross the finish line; this is the worst thing you could do! Walking around for approx. 10mins will help to gradually bring your heart rate down, flush out some lactic acid and help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle stiffness). So whether you walk, stagger, hobble or crawl just keep it moving!
Later: The following days and weeks are a balancing act of resting vs exercise. Rest will allow you to re-coop, whilst light exercise will encourage blood circulation, help flush out any lactate/ extra fluid and help to release tension in your muscles. Ideally, start with a short, gentle walk the day after your marathon and incorporate cross training over the next few days/weeks. This is a great opportunity to do low impact activities such as yoga. Swimming is a particularly good choice too as it is non-weight bearing and the pressure of the water works wonders when it comes to flushing waste products out of your system.
Some of you will be grimacing at the mere thought of the above whilst others will be itching to get back out there, desperate not to undo your weeks of hard training and quite literally want to “hit the ground running.” Do this and you are very likely to just hit the ground! Time is vital to your recovery and returning to training prematurely means you risk further injury. So take it easy and gradually, after 2-3 weeks, start building back up to your pre-marathon schedule. We know it’s hard but trust us, you will benefit in the long run (excuse the pun) and it could make all the difference to your performance in the next race.
Tip 2: Re-hydrate
Sooner: Water will be handed out at the finish line – grab it with both hands and sip it for the rest of the day! And forget the champagne (well maybe not entirely), but grab an energy drink full of electrolytes first. This is vital to replenishing the fluids and water that you will have lost during the race.
Later: In short – as above. In the following days, continue sipping water little and often to ensure you are rehydrated, particularly if you do have a few celebratory beverages! Do be careful, however, not to overhydrate. When you start cross training and exercising more revert back to your daily water intake pre-marathon.
Tip 3: Protein and Carbs
Sooner: As well as water and fluids, it is likely you will have lost your appetite at some point during the 26.2 miles too. However, it is important to try to eat some carbs or protein within the first 30 mins of finishing as this is when your muscles are most receptive to glycogen replenishment which aids muscle repair. Snacks such as bananas, oats, nuts, bagels are all good shouts! If you really can’t bear the thought of eating, try a shake!
Later: When you fancy eating a bit more, ensure your meals consist of carbs and protein in a ratio of 3 / 4 : 1. Carbs and protein will help to repair your damaged muscles thus keeping your recovery time to a minimum. Don’t forget to eat lots of fruits high in Vitamin C too, as this will help boost your weakened immune system.
Tip 4: Hot vs Cold
Sooner: When you finish your marathon, it is likely that you will get cold pretty quickly so ask your friends and family to bring some warm, dry clothes for you to change into. Compression tights have been shown to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle tension so, if you have a pair, pop them on. Particularly painful areas can be treated with a freezing spray. However, word of warning, these products do as they say on the tin; “freeze” the pain; they will only mask it temporarily so you can expect it to return later on.
Later: “Chill out”, literally, with a nice ice bath and/or contrast shower! We get, it’s not the best way to celebrate, but when it comes to your recovery, it’s a necessary evil! For an ice bath, immerse your lower body in the water (the temperature should be approx. 15°C/ 60°F and try your best to sit for 3-5 minutes. This will cause your blood vessels to shrink (vasoconstriction), which will reduce blood flow to your limbs and consequently help to reduce inflammation and DOMS.
For a contrast shower/bath, alternate between 2-3mins of hot water then 1 min cold water, concentrating on your legs, for approx. 15-20mins. The cold water will do, as above, whilst the hot water will cause the blood vessels in your limbs to get bigger (vasodilation), which will allow more blood flow to these areas. Together, the rapid change in temperature creates a pump like effect as your blood vessels oscillate between contracting and expanding. This not only helps control and improve your blood circulation but also helps remove waste products, aids muscle repair and can even enhance your overall immune system!
Tip 5: ZZZZZZZzzzz
Sooner: There’s a time and a place for this tip and falling asleep as you cross the finish line is not it (see Tip 1)! However, you’ll be pleased to know, a well-deserved nap in the afternoon (no longer than 40 mins) is absolutely A-ok!
Later: Getting a good night’s sleep following your marathon is pivotal to your recovery, although it is also easier said than done! Switching off the adrenaline can be a challenge in itself. Our advice: treat yourself to a nice, hot bath with our Newton Wood Epsom Salt crystals (we mean it this time – no ice – we promise)!
Having a nice, long bath always helps to relax your body and mind, and after running 26.2 miles it is important you recover mentally, as well as physically. Adding 1kg of our Newton Wood Epsom Salt crystals will enhance your relaxation, making it easier for you to drift off when you get into bed. Our Epsom Salt crystals also have anti-inflammatory qualities which help reduce swelling and ease sore muscles so take the opportunity to give your legs some real TLC – they deserve it! If your skin has become dry, sore or chafed, our crystals will help soothe these areas as they are 100% organic. Using our crystals in your bath in the following days and weeks (250g per bath, when used regularly) will help contribute to your overall recovery, and get you back up and runn-, well at least walking, in no time at all!
So whether you’re Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe in the making, more of a “ticked it off the bucket list – once is enough” kind of person or somewhere in between follow our top 5 post marathon tips to help you recover as soon as poss! However, remember to listen to your body, don’t rush and don’t overdo it; when it comes to your recovery, slow and steady will win the race!