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MARATHON RECOVERY TIPS: HOW TO RECHARGE AND REPAIR EFFECTIVELY

recovering after running a marathon

After more training sessions than you can count, you’ve finally made it. Race day has come and you’ve reached the finish line! A major accomplishment for all marathon runners. But then the feeling hits you - your adrenaline and energy start to dwindle and exhaustion sets in. 

So now it’s time for recovery mode. But bear in mind - the post marathon recovery timeline is longer than just a few hours. Indeed the journey will take you into the days and weeks following your race. Resetting your body effectively requires time, thought, effort and sufficient rest.

Read on to uncover the many helpful marathon recovery tips that’ll take you past the finish line and beyond. 

Post marathon recovery: How long will I feel sore?

Those who run a full or half marathon should expect to feel somewhat sore for approximately 5 days following. Soreness can happen immediately, or you could experience delayed onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS) which refers to soreness that creeps up several days post-exercise.

Microtears, which are technically a type of natural muscle damage, will occur during strenuous activity. This is not a bad thing, but it can often cause a feeling of tight, sore, or stiff muscles, anywhere from right after the event, to many days later.

Fortunately, there’s a lot that can be done to help aid in your recovery and get you back to your baseline again.

First recovery stage: The hours following your marathon

It’s essential to have a post marathon recovery plan lined up for once your race is over. This very first stage will help kickstart your recovery process over the course of the following days and weeks. So don’t neglect these crucial steps!

Body cool down

Ensuring a proper cool down following a half marathon or full marathon is crucial for aiding in your body's recovery and minimizing the likelihood of post-race pain. It’s helpful to slowly decrease your speed right at the end of your marathon, shifting from running, to jogging, and slowing right down to walking. Don’t just transition from running to standing still! 

This gradual deceleration will steadily reduce your heart rate and prevent the accumulation of blood in your lower limbs.

Rehydrate

During your marathon, you will have lost a ton of fluids. It’s important to replenish them shortly after the fact, as proper hydration will aid with muscle recovery and revive your general health. Just be sure not to gulp down an excess of water too quickly in order to avoid stomach upset - you’ll have a much better outcome with slower sipping over a longer period of time. 

Electrolyte replenishment

During exercise, you sweat out a combination of water and electrolytes (such as sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium.) These electrolytes are essential for overall bodily function, helping to assist in fluid homeostasis, muscle function, and nerve transmission.

Electrolytes are necessary to promote an effective recovery. After you complete a marathon, you can restore lost electrolytes by consuming foods and drinks rich in these essential minerals, including electrolyte replacement options like sports drinks and coconut water. These products either naturally contain, or are specifically formulated, to offer a well-balanced mix of electrolytes, replenishing what's been lost during your workout.

Refuel

This is the time to fuel your body with a solid snack so you can recharge. Foods that sit well (maybe take a rain check on pizza just for the time being) will set you up for success in your recovery journey. A larger recovery meal later on will do the trick, you just need a bit more time between the end of your marathon and jumping into that meal. 

For now, lean towards a snack-sized portion of easy-to-digest foods that have carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein in them, such as bananas, an egg, a smoothie, or some cheese.

Shower 

Showering rinses and cleanses your body by removing bacteria build up from sweating. Showering also reduces muscle inflammation and relieves joint pain. You can enjoy and benefit from warm showers as well as cold showers.

Taking a cold shower can help to alleviate inflammation, pain, stress, muscle soreness and fatigue. On the other hand, hot showers can promote cardiovascular health, enhance the quality of sleep, and ease stiffness.

Change into dry clothes

If you linger in your sweaty attire, chills may start to set in, so make it a priority to head home and take a shower promptly after your marathon. Following that, try to wear loose, cozy clothing, and consider layering up - you may experience fluctuating sensations of warmth and chilliness.

Your recovery shoes await 

Putting on a pair of recovery shoes following a marathon can offer numerous advantages to support your recovery after the race. This specific type of shoe is designed for comfort, giving your feet a chance to unwind and recuperate.

Wearing recovery shoes with their specific features can potentially expedite the recovery process. These shoes offer support, cushioning, and enhance circulation, aiding in quicker muscle recovery, decreasing soreness, and lowering the likelihood of injuries resulting from prolonged strain.

Abstain from alcohol

Don’t reach for that celebratory beer or glass of champagne just yet! You’ll want to prioritize your body's recovery and refrain from alcohol immediately after the race. Since alcohol acts as a diuretic, it can exacerbate dehydration in your body. Alcohol can also increase inflammation in the body, interfere with muscle recovery and repair, disrupt sleep patterns, and impair judgment when it comes to nutrition, rest, and proper recovery.

Gently stretch

Doing some static stretching immediately after your marathon may appear beneficial, but it can actually worsen muscle damage. Conversely, incorporating some gentle stretching into your routine the day after, and in the following days, can enhance post-race recovery - as long as you warm up adequately before stretching.

Try some gentle stretching in the days following to help alleviate muscle tightness and reduce the risk of stiffness after your marathon. Focus on major muscle groups such as hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and quads. You may choose to also incorporate foam rolling into, or include it after, your stretching routine for a self-myofascial massage.

Body assessment

Always take a moment to check in on how you’re feeling, and assess any discomfort, swelling or soreness you may be experiencing. Should there be an injury at hand, the best course of action may be the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method in order to properly heal before pursuing other avenues of recovery.  

Rest 

It’s now time for a real break and body rest - which may include a nice little (or big) nap! As the thrill of the race tapers off, your body will naturally be hit with some level of exhaustion. This is the moment to give in and catch some z’s. Sometimes nothing is better than the feeling of your body weight melting away into dreamland (just avoid awkward sleeping positions that could worsen any stiffness.) 

Second recovery stage: The day following your marathon

The next day has arrived and you’re feeling refreshed from a deep sleep. But there’s still much work to do on your body as your post marathon recovery continues. Adequate sleep will have helped with tissue repair and regaining energy, which is a great way to begin day 2 of recovery. 

Take these next several recovery steps as seriously as yesterdays! 

Body reassessment 

A single body assessment isn’t quite enough after a race - you’ll want to check in a few times in the aftermath, and day 2 is the perfect time for that. Experiencing any aches, pains, sprains or injuries following your marathon? These signs are not to be ignored, so engage in the RICE method again - with some physical therapy in the mix too, if needed. 

No strenuous exercise

This is the time to engage in low-impact cross training, not the intense pre-race training you grew accustomed to months prior. Activities like walking, biking or swimming will be gentle on your joints, helping to promote blood circulation and allowing your muscles to recover from a marathon. 

Continue fueling and hydrating 

Keep drinking water, replenishing your electrolytes, and eating nutrient-dense foods. All three of these will help move your recovery journey along and have you feeling energized, getting you back to normal in no time. 

Warm Epsom salts bath

In addition to showers or regular baths, there’s always the option of incorporating Epsoms salts into your soak. These specific types of salts help to restore your magnesium, relax your muscles, and relieve pain post-marathon. The combination of the warm bath and salts will also improve your circulation. 

Third recovery stage: A week following your marathon

Massage therapy

Getting a massage from an RMT (Registered Massage Therapist) sometime over the course of the week following a marathon can help to support your recovery journey. Massages help to relax the muscles, improve circulation, increase flexibility and range of motion, reduce muscle soreness and relieve both mental and physical stress.

Your massage’s level of intensity, as well as its timing, should be customized based on your own specific needs and preferences. Some may choose to receive a massage within a day or two of their race in order to immediately tackle acute soreness. 

Others may prefer a milder approach later in the week for a more relaxing and recovery-focused experience. Be sure to communicate with your RMT to ensure your massage is suitable and effective for your post-marathon recovery. Informing them of your current condition, goals and preferences will help greatly.

Gradually reintroduce exercise 

When you decide to reintegrate running or higher-impact exercises into your routine, take it slowly. Lower-intensity, slower runs are a good starting point, as are strength training and cross training exercises. Best not to overdo it too quickly. Over time, however, you can safely increase the length and intensity of your workouts. 

Always be mindful of what your body is trying to tell you, both during and after your workout. If you encounter any pain, discomfort, or unexpected levels of fatigue, consider adjusting your training regimen. Remember, this kind of exercise is not meant to be on the same scale as marathon training. 

Try a recovery run

Depending on your energy levels and physical ability at this point in time, a recovery run could be a great way to re-engage in running without going overboard. A safe time frame for this type of slower-paced, less intense run would be between 3-7 days post-race. Certain runners could be ready for a recovery run on day 3, whereas others need a full week before trying any type of running again. Always assess how you as an individual are feeling at the time.

The objective of a recovery run is to stimulate blood flow, assist in muscle recovery, and gradually reintegrate training. If you’re not sure when the best time would be to begin a recovery run, it’s a good idea to get some advice from a physio or healthcare professional. 

Sleep

Sleep is essential after running a marathon, as it has a great impact on the body’s ability to recover properly. Sleep allows your muscles to repair and recover, encourages better immune system function, regulates your hormones, restores energy, heals and regenerates your tissues, and is mentally restorative.

Sleep hygiene is especially important during this time in order to promote sufficient recovery. In order to get a truly restful, restorative sleep, the goals post marathon are to sleep for a minimum of 7 hours, establish a sleeping environment that’s healthy and sustainable, and stick to a consistent sleeping schedule. This will facilitate your body's healing mechanisms.

When to seek professional advice

Should you have any pre-existing injuries, chronic pain or instability that was aggravated due to the marathon run, it’s recommended to consult with a physical therapist or healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. 

These professionals will be able to assess your condition and circumstance, and give you the treatment and recommendations needed to recover effectively. Advice from professionals can help you return to your running passion again in a safe time frame and manner.

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