How to recover from running a marathon
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Courtesy NBC Sports
The past few weeks have seen some major marathons take place on the international racing scene. The London Marathon, for example, took place April 22 in the warmth of a spring heatwave.
While seasoned marathoners may be acclimatized to the effects of running such a distance, those less experienced marathoners may well be feeling the effects afterwards! Here are some top tips on how to recover quickly from a marathon, or any other endurance event.
1. Keep moving
The first thing you need to do when you cross the finishing line is probably the one thing you really don’t want to do! Keep moving.
If you stop and sit down straight after finishing, you risk several post-run issues. Keeping walking helps to pump blood full of lactic acid away from your muscles.
It helps to bring fresh, oxygenated blood to the muscles to help with recovery. It also means you’ll be less stiff over the next couple of days.
2. Change your clothes
Get out of your sweaty, damp clothes and into something warm, dry and comfortable as soon as possible. Your body has just used up a ton of energy in running the marathon.
Keeping warm also requires energy, so make your body's life easier! This will also reduce your likelihood of coming down with colds and bugs. It’s very common to suffer with an illness after such a massive event.
3. Compression garments
Many people opt for compression garments such as leggings following a marathon. Whilst there is little evidence to show any benefits during exercise, there is evidence to support their use during recovery.
Compression works a bit like a pump that increases circulation, in turn eliminating muscle metabolites and improving lymphatic drainage.
Static stretching is very useful in post-exercise recovery. Whilst active or dynamic stretching is recommended during a warm-up, static stretching can still be great for reducing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after an event such as a marathon.
Stretching should occur within 10-30 minutes of completing your run, usually, once you’ve walked around and let the heart rate come back down. Aim to stretch out all of the major muscle groups in the legs – quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds, repeating 2-3 times per muscle group. It’s a good idea to repeat this every couple of hours for the first 48 hours post-race, where possible.
5. Sip your drinks
Whatever the weather and no matter how much fluid you took on during the run, you will be dehydrated at the end of a marathon! You may not feel it, especially to start with but don’t make the mistake of inadequate rehydration. Your body needs fluid to recover.
Sip sports drinks that contain electrolytes, often known as isotonic drinks. Electrolytes such as sodium are lost when we sweat and also need replacing. Drinking large quantities of plain water can be detrimental and could cause a condition known as hyponatremia, which occurs when the levels of sodium in your blood are too low).
Alcohol after such an event is generally not a good idea. As most people know, alcohol is a diuretic and therefore actually expels water from the body by making you pee more! Not what you need when you are dehydrated.
Your body will be craving food. You’ve burned thousands of calories on nothing more than a light breakfast and maybe a few jelly babies!
You won’t feel immediately like a full meal but try to eat a snack within 30 minutes of finishing. This could be a banana, a smoothie, a protein bar….whatever tickles your fancy.
Within two hours you should be feeling ready to tuck into something a bit more substantial! This meal should ideally be carb heavy to replace your glycogen stores and contain a good source of protein to help with muscle recovery. A good bowl of pasta with chicken, or a jacket potato with tuna mayo would both be good choices.
Our bodies recover the most during deep sleep. During the time we are fast asleep, our cells repair and grow. The usual recommendation for adults is to sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. But for those who have undertaken grueling events such as a marathon, 9 or 10 hours would be more adequate!
It’s ideal if you can take the day after a marathon off work so you can sleep until your body is naturally ready to wake. If this isn’t possible, ensure you get an early night!
Post-event massages can be great for recovery. Sometimes you can get one straight after the event, or any time in the next couple of days should suffice.
The aim is for long, sweeping strokes to help with waste dispersal and to stretch out the muscle fibers. The focus at this time is not really on any injuries or niggles you have, but more as an overall recovery tool. More specific treatment can occur in a couple of days.
9. Returning to exercise
Most people don’t fancy the idea of a run within a few days of completing a marathon, and who could blame you! However, some light exercise is ideal to help encourage blood flow and loosen those tight muscles.
Try a different activity – ideally non-weight bearing, such as swimming or cycling. Don’t push hard, just take it leisurely. But try to get moving again within the first three days.
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