Recover After Your Race
From “Marathoning Start to Finish” by Patti and Warren Finke
What you do the first few hours and days after a marathon is as important as what you do immediately preceding it. This period is critical to your recovery and your future running. The best aid to recovery is a good training program before the marathon. A training program with a good mileage base leads to faster recovery. If you run the marathon without adequate preparation (in spite of all our suggestions), you will suffer both during and after it. If you train well you can cope with the race and will recover faster.
There are a number of factors that are important in recovery. The most important of these are muscle soreness, fatigue and feelings of depression. The recovery period and activities should take these items into account. Some general recommendations will be given. These will be followed by recovery progressions.
Delayed muscle soreness after exercise has been described often. The soreness is a feeling of stiffness and soreness that begins 8 or more hours after exercise and may last 3-4 days (sometimes a week). Researchers propose several causes:
[#8226] Damage to the muscle tissue itself. May be due to depletion of energy reserves or actual degeneration of muscle fibers.
[#8226] Accumulation of fluid and breakdown products in the muscle.
[#8226] Muscle spasm.
[#8226] Overstretching or tears of the connective tissue.
The soreness may be a result of one or more of these causes depending on the individual, his state of training and the activity. The most likely causes after a marathon are depletion of energy reserves and the accumulation of fluid in the muscles.
Pain relief can helped by icing, massage, light activity and slow gentle stretching. All of these things work by increasing the circulation to the area. The increased circulation takes away waste and extra fluid and brings new nutrients. Drinking fluids will help flush the waste products from the body.
Recovery Immediately After the Marathon
A cool down after finishing is important. It may be difficult to do this depending on the finish area. Try an easy jog or a walk of 10 minutes or so. Fainting, leg cramps, and/or nausea may result from stopping suddenly or lying down. Do not stretch now. Your muscle are exhausted and you may activate the stretch reflex leading to cramping or injury. Take advantage of massage if offered. Ask for ice to massage any sore areas. Drink lots of fluids, especially ones rich in electrolytes such as orange juice or tomato juice (now is the time for electrolyte drinks vs during the race). Try to drink at least 6-8 ounces of water every 1-2 hours. Eat something as soon as you can. Many marathons provide “goodie” bags or meals for finishers, take advantage of these. A large balanced meal may be the best since it will probably contain some of everything you need to replace. Avoid long soaks in hot water which may cause swelling and lead to delayed muscle soreness. If you feel like you need a nap, reward yourself with one. Try to take a 10 to 15 minute walk later in the afternoon to keep circulation going.
The Day After the Marathon
Post race depression is quite common. You usually feel a real “high” after finishing especially if you’ve done well and can talk to other runners and share experiences. The next morning the fatigue and soreness may make you wonder if the marathon was worth it. This letdown is a normal response to meeting your goal and not having a new one. Don’t make any plans or predictions until the end of the week. Take time to assess your performance, see if you followed your plan and write down both the good and the bad things that happened. Review your training diary to see what worked well for you and try to pick out any mistakes
Any exercise you can do will promote circulation and aid healing and recovery. If you feel like you can run, find a flat soft surface to run on such as a track. Start slowly, you may be quite stiff. After running a short distance, your legs should loosen up and running will feel better. This sensation will persist until your muscles start to fatigue and then they will start to stiffen back up. When you feel this begin to happen or if something hurts, you’ve had enough. When in doubt, don’t run any more than you did the day before the marathon (about 10 to 15 minutes). If you feel too sore or stiff to run, take a walk or ride your bike or go swimming for 20 to 30 minutes to get your blood flowing. If anything hurts, ice it after your workout. The long soak in the tub may be OK to take today. Eat anything that looks or sounds good to you. You probably need it and you certainly deserve it. Your whole body will feel fatigued, plan to take it easy and go to bed early.
The Week After the Marathon
You may experience a general lack of energy the following week. The reasons for fatigue are obvious. You have worked hard and deserve to rest. Plan on an early bedtime for at least a week to help you get over the fatigue. Eat well balanced meals with complex carbohydrates to replenish the body’s energy stores. Take in adequate protein to rebuild any tissue damage. Cravings for particular foods should be answered. This may be the body’s way of telling you what it needs.
As the stiffness and soreness subside, slowly build up your runs. Think of it as a sort of reverse tapering process. As you dropped hard workouts, then reduced your mileage down to a minimum the day before the marathon, so should you increase your mileage from a minimum the day after, slowly building it until you are ready to do hard workouts again. The maximum should be the same mileage as the week before the marathon. The minimum should be whatever exercise feels good to you. Several days after the marathon you may feel very strong. This is because your post race lessened activity and eating well have carbohydrate loaded your body! Avoid the temptation to do a hard workout. Unless you are incredibly fit, you have not recovered yet. Stick to your recovery plan.
The Month After the Marathon
If you are not an experienced marathoner, expect to have some long term fatigue during the month following the race. This fatigue usually shows up when you try to do hard or long runs. You will simply “run out of gas”. It will go away and eventually you will emerge stronger than ever. As a rule of thumb, allow yourself about 10 training miles for every race mile for a full recovery. When you are back doing regular training and have accumulated 260 training miles, you should be ready to race again. Now is the time to set some goals for your future racing and make plans for training.
If you are an experienced marathoner with a good training base, this 260 miles of recovery will happen soon. You are in excellent shape, have peaked and may find that you can run some great races. If you plan to race, cut down on your training mileage and recover fully from each one. If you have not fully recovered from the marathon and try to race, you may run excellent times, but your are courting serious injury. Keep setting goals and planning your training so that you can achieve those goals.
Listed below are several post marathon recovery programs. These are only guides. Recovery rates are highly individual and only you can determine whether this program is too short. If soreness or fatigue lingers, back off to the previous week’s schedule and give yourself time to heal. If you have persistent pain, you may have injured yourself in the marathon. Try another less stressful aerobic exercise such as bicycling or swimming for awhile. If pain is severe, you may need complete rest and the opinion of a physician.