So this is it… the final part of Spring into a Marathon. I hope you’ve found it helpful – please do leave a comment if you have, or even if you haven’t! I’d love to know what was useful and what was not-so useful.
Although this part of the feature is all about what to do after you’ve finished your marathon, I wanted to publish it before, as I know what a whirlwind it can be in the hours and days following you completing potentially one of the biggest races of your life.
And here it is, your guide to how to recover after the marathon – this starts the minute you cross the line:
First of all… Congratulate Yourself!
Regardless of whether you had a great race, or it didn’t quite go to plan, you should feel very proud of yourself. The biggest mistake you can make after finishing your marathon is getting hung up over the minute details. You have just done what billions of people across the world will never do. Well done!
If your target was to finish, or to break 3 hours – either way you have made a huge achievement. Pat yourself on the back and soak in the glory!
I’ve already mentioned in the previous post the importance of keeping moving, so I won’t repeat myself, but you need to keep your body going for just a little while longer to allow it to settle down from the exertion it’s just been through. You might feel like a zombie, but do it – keep moving! You will help prevent post-race collapse, and you will help short term recovery of your muscles by have a gentle walk for around 10-20 minutes.
Your body will have lost a lot of fluid during the marathon and it’s important to start replacing this soon after finishing. I’m not saying guzzle litres of water, but sip at fluids. You will probably be handed a cup or bottle of water and accept it graciously – you’ll need it. You might also want to find a recovery drink or juice to sip on to begin replacing your muscles’ glycogen stores.
Ok, so now you can sit down! By now your body should have come back down to its steady state and you can let it do what it’s telling you it wants to do – whether this is sitting or laying, find a place and do it, preferably somewhere with shade. Stay with friends if possible, just in case you have sat down too soon and your blood pressure drops.
Within an hour or so of finishing you’ll want to start getting some food into you. If you have a charity area to go to then they will probably have snacks available. Eat whatever takes your fancy – some people struggle to feel hungry after a hard run, so if there’s only one thing you think you can stomach then find it and have it. Or you may find yourself the opposite and grabbing any food in sight – that’s fine! Have a descent sized snack at this point, and again in another hour or so.
Around 3-4 hours after finishing you should be aiming to have a full meal. High carbohydrate meals are still best to try and help your body recover, as well as protein for muscle repair. Realistically, anything goes – if you want a hamburger and chips, have it. All I wanted after my marathon was a pizza, and I finally got my wish around 5 hours after finishing… followed by an ice cream sundae!
This is another benefit of the charity areas, there are often groups of volunteers providing post-race massage, but there may also be a tent near the finish line for non-charity runners to be able to get a massage too. This can be really soothing after a race, and is thought to help kick start the recovery process. The massage you’ll get at this stage is just a gentle rubdown, but if your massage therapist does get a little too vigorous be sure to tell them and they should ease off. If it still hurts, then you may have to ask them to stop.
You might also want to consider booking in to see your local sports or massage therapist a couple of days to a week after the race too.
Other Recovery Techniques
Some swear by ice baths, others epsom salts or compression clothing. In reality, there is limited research to support any one technique being more favourable than the standard rest, stretching and massage. Having said this, if you’ve used ice baths in the past there’s no harm in doing so again after your race, likewise with any other recovery technique you usually find works for you.
For stretching keep to a gentle ease of the muscles, rather than a full stretch held for a long time, to prevent any unwanted strain on the already damaged muscle fibres.
As your body cycles through the stages of sleep, hormones are released that stimulate tissue growth and muscle repair. Sure, stay up celebrating as long as you like, but soon enough your body will naturally want to sleep so let it. You will allow the healing and recovery process to really kick off at this stage, and that’s only going to help you get back to your routine sooner.
Returning to Training
You may have heard people saying “rest one day for each mile of your race”, which if you’re good at maths is 26 days of rest. Now this isn’t strictly true – you don’t need 26 days of full rest. Ideally, you shouldn’t run at all for 3-4 days following the race, but after that there’s no harm in going out for a short, gentle jog. This doesn’t mean enter a 5k race, or do a hill session! Keep it light for at least your first week’s activity following your rest days. The second week you could begin to add some faster sessions, but still nothing hard. By the third week, you may be able to pick up to almost pre-race training levels. But listen to your body; if you feel excessively tired, achy, or start picking up sniffles then ease off.
You may find that your marathon training can carry other racing benefits; a lot of runners achieve other personal best times in the months following their marathon race. Try a 10k around 4-5 weeks after your marathon – you may be surprised how well the fitness translates to this shorter distance. This can also help with post-marathon blues…
For four months, or more, you have worked your bum off aiming for this one goal and now it’s over. You’ve crossed the finish line, hung up your medal and bragged about your achievement and now you’re back to reality, back to pre-marathon training life. This can hit some people hard as they ask themselves “what now?”. Even if you’ve had a good race you can feel lost without another target.
This target doesn’t have to be running related, or even fitness related. But it needs to be something. Whether it’s to learn a new skill, choose another race, or finish that book you’ve been meaning to read.
You may vow never to run again… I’d love to see you try!
- Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Pages 259-270.
CC Image “Finish Line” courtesy of RVWithTito on Flickr.
CC Image “Finish Line at the Portland Marathon ’09” courtesy of Lululemon Athletica on Flickr.
CC Image “Massage after a long day” courtesy of Crimestoppers on Flickr.