Steps to Recover after Running a Marathon

by kbarry on October 8, 2012

You just finished your marathon, basking in the glory of your accomplishment and doing the marathon hobble.  You may think you’re all done with the race but there is an important last step needed – the recovery.

With many marathons taking place such as the Chicago marathon this past weekend and the NYC in just over a month I thought it would be good to discuss the best methods to recover from the big race.  When running 5ks, 10ks and even half marathons you generally just need a few days rest – maybe some ice and you’ll be good to go.  The marathon is another beast, requiring much more attention during your recovery period.  So much preparation has gone into your training and the race, don’t stop the dedication until you’re fully back to 100% after the race.  Following the steps below will allow you to get back to walking normal and back to running again sooner without injury.

Immedately After the Finish
Get calories into you – your body will be wanting carbs in the worst way so make sure to get some in no matter the form.  Most races will give you post race food such as pretzels, bagels, bananas and other snacks to replenish your glycogen that you just used up during the race.  Don’t forget to take in a lot of water as well after the race!

After you have taken care of those carbs the next nutrient you will need is some form of protien.  You leg muscles have been worn down for the past 26 miles, now your body will begin the process of rebuilding those muscles and it needs protien.  Protien bars, shakes or recovery drinks with protien will be your best bets just after the race.

As much as it may hurt to keep walking after the race, try your best to keep moving.  Sitting for a long time or not moving will cause your muscles to tighten up and lead to more soreness down the road.

When you get home
After you get home from the race the most painful part of the recovery takes place – the dreaded ice bath!  Yes they do suck a lot but trust me they will make your legs feel so much better the next few days.  I once was a skeptic of the ice baths but they really do make a difference after a marathon to aid in recovery.  Many times people go too cold and for too long in the ice baths – it can be a nice cool bath that you are only in for about 6-7 minutes.  Fill up a tub with enough water to cover your legs when you’re sitting down and dump a few cup fulls of ice into the tub.  Doesn’t have to be a ton of ice just enough to make the water a little uncomfortable.  Soak in there for about 6-7 minutes (no longer!) and get out.

Next step will be to get a full nutiritous meal into you that has a good balance of carbs and protien.  Again your body will be needing both to help it recover from the beating it just took during the race.  By this point you’ll probably want to pass out and take a nap so go ahead and do that.  As hard as it is try to avoid alcohol after the race but hey, you deserve it.

Again if you’re able to keep trying to move around to prevent muscle tightness and soreness.

The Day After
The day after the marathon you’ll probably start the day off struggling to get out of bed and start walking.  You’ll just have to fight through it and start moving around – the more you move around the better.  Take a painkiller such as Advil or Tylenol to help deal with the muscle soreness and continue to drink pleanty of water and keep moving around.  Be sure to ice any body parts that are sore – no running or exercise!

Two Days After
You’re probably beginning to feel a little better, steps aren’t such a challenge anymore but you are still pretty sore.  Still no running!

4-5 Days After
By this point you as long as you feel up to it you’re cleared to begin running again.  No more than a few miles to start off with at a nice easy pace then begin to build up the mileage as you feel comfortable.  Just be sure to listen to your body and make sure you don’t push yourself too hard during your ramp back up to running.

With the steps above they should help you minimize the soreness/pain which will allow you to get back to running sooner.  Your main goal is to let your body recover from the beating it took during the race and slowly get back into running without getting injured.  As soon as you’re back to 100% time to start planning for the next race!

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