Recover from a Marathon, In Style!
You’ve done it. You're a first time marathoner or you have just earned your personal best timing, the adrenal rush is high and accomplishing it is even higher!
Once it dies down and you catch your breath and the feelings of elation can begin to give way to something else: soreness, tiredness, fatigue.
So Deepa, how do you fast track your marathon recovery time? This is a question I have been asked a zillion times. Putting together my post Marathon Recovery plan for you.
Again this is something I have learnt through my running and you may not agree or may want to add to it.
What happens to your body after a marathon?
Your muscles are damaged, food-stores depleted – yet, likely, you won’t be able to listen to all the signals your body is giving you due to all you’ve just been through. It's estimated most runners competing in a marathon will physically shrink by as much as 1.25cm average due to compression of the spine from impact, and will likely lose significant body mass through dehydration – up to around 10% depending on your pace and the conditions.
Don’t allow that to scare you. Let’s focus on recovery now.
Marathon recovery plan
A post-marathon recovery depends on how fit and well trained you are.
I ran my seventh Marathon with my personal best timing of 4:06 yesterday on a flat terrain and the best weather conditions. So, in terms of effort, it was a 6 out of 10 for me and so will be the recovery plan.
However, most important is to listen to your own body and go at your own pace to recover.
First things First
Walk for at least 10-15 minutes to cool down, rather than sitting or lying down immediately after the race. Low blood pressure often accompanies a sudden stop in running. You don’t want to faint! Walking will promote extra blood flow to clear your muscles and blood stream of exercise byproducts (like lactate, cortisol, and adrenaline)
Start re-hydrating and taking in calories to give your carb-starved muscles the energy they’re demanding.
Personally, I can’t eat immediately after a race, but do try to eat something with protein in it to help rebuild damaged muscles. Nuts, seeds and a few dates. Banana and peanut butter or like me a Millet drink does the trick too.
The first week post a Marathon is crucial to recovery.
Prioritize sleep to ensure you’re mentally and physically ready to run after about a week off.
But once you start to feel recovered and ready to start running, you can employ a “reverse taper” to get back to your normal mileage.
Marathon Recovery Rule 1: Take a Shower
Immediately after the race a contrast shower works wonders. What is a contrast shower? Alternate between cold water and hot water on your legs—one minute hot, then one minute cold. The cold water causes vasoconstriction (i.e. blood vessels close and get smaller) of the blood vessels in your legs, while the hot water causes vasodilation (i.e. blood vessels open and get bigger). This oscillation between the vessels closing and opening helps rush oxygen-rich blood to your legs.
Get A Leg Up
I love this - Five to 10 minutes to do the yoga pose, “Legs Up on the Wall,” or Viparita Karani. It reverses circulation to refresh your legs, gently stretches the lower body muscles, and is a great way to internally celebrate your race. (especially when wearing your medal and looking at your Garmin Stats)
Marathon Recovery Rule 2: Eat Protein, Sleep, Then Get Moving
After your contrast shower, have a nice protein-rich meal. Then, get a good night's sleep. The next day, you take the day off from running, right? Wrong. You've got to get moving the day after the marathon. I know it's hard, but you need to go for at least a brisk walk, and possibly a light jog. Do something to get blood moving in your legs to help facilitate the healing process.
This run or walk is your check-in with your body post-race. Is your right knee sore or your left gluteal muscles tight? Or maybe you have horrible blisters on one foot but not the others.
If it’s a hot race, try a liquid recovery drink. If it’s cold, soup are great. Continue to nibble on balanced snacks and meals that are made up of a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein all day. Sip fluids throughout the day to re-hydrate.
Eat wisely, eliminating sugary donuts or fried chicken, but stick to fresh fruits and vegetables. Small portions than larger meals and many meals than just three larger meals help recovery. Add lemon, ginger and turmeric to your meal. This reduces the inflammation and boosts immunity.
Fluid-replacement is important after the race, but even more important is not overdoing it. The rule of thumb is only 500ml of liquid each hour after the marathon to recover fluids.
This is to prevent going to the opposite extreme and having too much liquid for the amount of salt in your system, which can result in hyponatremia.
Marathon Recovery Rule 3: Invest in Your Recovery
The next step you should consider following the marathon is to invest a little money in yourself for a good massage. In the final miles of a well-run marathon, there is undoubtedly a breakdown in your biomechanics, and that breakdown means that you're asking more of one muscle group or more of one side of your body than the other. This will take care of any little injuries you may have incurred during the race.
Marathon Recovery Rule 4: Cross-Train Before You Resume Running
A new model for marathon recovery values the healing power of getting oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscle tissue. My favourite way is to swim. You simply move some blood around the body, and speed up the healing time of the cellular damage that occurred in your leg muscles during the race.
Also, there is some benefit to being in water for the lymph system, as the hydrostatic pressure of the water gives your lymph system a gentle massage that helps flush out the toxins and waste products you might be holding onto post-marathon.
Biking, cross-training on the elliptical and hiking are good choices, too—all three of these activities meet the criteria of getting blood to your damaged muscles.
Marathon Recovery Rule 5: Get Stronger Before You Start Training Again
I refer to take my focus off running during this time. Work on strength and general mobility. This works on my body imbalances. Every runner has weaknesses, often with their minor muscle groups, and this work helps strengthen those areas.
Staying injury-free, is every runner’s ultimate aim. This time off works on that area too.
But if you want to improve as a runner, then you need to improve your basal level of general strength, and you need to improve your hip and ankle mobility. Think of this work as an insurance policy again injury for your next block of serious run training.
So when do you start running?
That's very much up to you.
For many runners, the thought of going two or three weeks without running is hard to imagine, yet many elite distance runners take a long break after a marathon. This is a great time to cross-train, which could include activities as gentle as a brisk walk or a hike. The key here is that you should give your body some time to realign and heal from the stress of a marathon.
I take this time for a few late night parties, long catch-ups with non runner friends, go for bike rides (not cycle but my motor cycle rides). Its also time to show gratitude to your family who tolerated your no social Friday evenings and stood by your aches and pains.
Most important - recover mentally from a Marathon stress before you lace up and show at your next Start Line