Post-Marathon Recovery

You just finished your first marathon – congratulations! You’re mood ought to be soaring pretty high now…but don’t sit down just yet. Wondering what you’re supposed to do after crossing that finish line and accomplishing such a massive goal? How do you recover properly so you can (and will want to) do it again? In all honesty, the recovery begins before you’re even home.

Within the first hour post-race
Go ahead and take a few moments to celebrate your finish; admire your medal, hug your supporters, and get a well-deserved drink from your Wenger environmentally friendly drinking bottle. Then get right back to business. While you’re rehashing every footfall of your race to your admiring supporters, make sure you’re concurrently stretching. The usual running muscles become exhausted in a marathon, so other muscles must step up and help out. The additional workload is often shocking and tiring to the recruited muscles, meaning you’ll want to stretch everything, whether you think it was used in the race or not – because it probably was. Begin with your toes and ankles and move up slowly to your neck and shoulders. It should take a good 20-30 minutes of gentle stretching before you even think about heading to your car and sitting for the long ride home.

You’ll also need to begin replenishing depleted electrolytes, and eat protein to begin with muscle reparation. Most races hand out free snack for runners, so head on over and collect some water or your favorite energy drink, a few orange slices, and some cheese and crackers. We recommend skipping the candy and chips and just focusing on protein and (healthy) carbs.

As soon as you get home
Run an ice bath – then sit in it for as long as you can handle it, which won’t likely be more than 10 minutes. If the thought of sitting in the freezing water churns your already weak stomach, make it slightly more bearable by blasting some inspiring music (your training music would probably work great) and bundle up on top with a hat, scarf, and sweatshirt. Only your waste down needs to be submerged in the ice bath, as the legs are feet are what took the brunt of the beating.

The freezing temperature will help constrict blood vessels (aka, stop your legs from swelling any further), and when you get out and your legs begin warming up, a rush of fresh blood will surge to the area helping to flush harmful metabolic debris from your muscles. Give your legs a couple of minutes to warm up to the air on their own (about the time it will take the tub to drain), and then treat yourself to a hard-earned warm shower.

That night
Eat a dinner focused on healthy carbohydrates and protein sources, then go to bed early. Understand, however that despite being utterly exhausted, you might actually have a hard time falling sleep or staying asleep while your aching muscles get right to work on recovering and rebuilding tissue. It may help to sleep on your back and prop your legs up with a pillow or two, keeping the blood from pooling in them and increasing swelling.

The Next Day
Especially if this was your first marathon, absolutely do not try to go running the next day. This does not mean you shouldn’t leave your bed or the couch, however. The sooner you start using your soar muscles, the faster they will recover. Just remember to be gentle with them. Nothing more than a gentle walk around the neighborhood or an easy few laps in the pool is necessary (or recommended). The point is simply to get some fresh blood pumping through them to help flush the lactic acid and other debris out.

The week following your marathon
It is recommended that you wait at least three days before even thinking about running again, but most people wait closer to a full week. The most important measure of how much you should be doing post-marathon is your body – listen carefully to what it’s telling you. If you’re still cringing every time you have to walk up or down stairs, you shouldn’t try running again yet. Keep walking, swimming, cycling or some other sort of gentle exercise, and wait until your legs honestly feel like they’re ready to pound the pavement again. Starting back too early will likely only lead to injury.

Finishing your first marathon is a major milestone, and one you undoubtedly worked very hard for. Celebrate the accomplishment by taking it easy and recovering properly so you can do it again soon!