6 Post-Marathon Recovery Tips to Feel Better Faster
Nothing compares to the feeling of crossing a marathon finish line. All your hard work paid off in clocking 26.2 and now it’s time to celebrate! While your mind might feel ready to party, your legs probably feel, well, much less energised. Aches tend to kick in soon after crossing that line and walking — especially down the stairs — can feel painful.
But that’s the catch: To promote post-marathon recovery, it’s actually best not to immediately sit down. The key to feeling better is knowing your recovery is not as simple as sleeping on your bed for as long as possible. (Though rest is certainly encouraged!)
A whole host of variables can affect your post-run recovery, such as the intensity of the race, the weather, your health, and the training season. Everyone is different— and will take a different amount of time and various strategies to feel better — but there are several post-marathon recovery tips you can steal to aid the process of feeling better and tackling stairs with ease again. Here’s what the experts recommend.
1. Just Keep Walking
Cross the finish line, get your medal, take a picture, and keep walking. Although the first instinct may be to drop to your knees and thank the gods that you’ve finished, that isn’t the best way to go when it comes to post-marathon recovery, and it can actually leave you feeling ill. Think about it: You’ve just asked your body to run 42.2 kilometres. It’s still in marathon mode when you finish and greatly needs to transition back to normal life. So you’re doing it a favor by giving it time to cool down with a walk.
Walk for at least 10 to 15 minutes — back to your car, hotel, or cab to downshift gently. We promise it’s worth it.
2. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Eat a small snack within the first 30 to 60 minutes post-race. Save the big meal for later in the day when your appetite returns, and you can enjoy that celebration. The time immediately after the race is more about getting in about 200 to 300 easily-digestible calories from carbohydrates and protein to maintain blood sugar levels, replenish muscle glycogen, and repair muscle tissue.
Half of a chicken sandwich, carrots, and almond butter or pretzels will do the trick. If it’s a hot race, try a liquid recovery drink. If it’s cold, soup gets the job done. 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.
Also, make sure to sip fluids throughout the day to rehydrate. Some races have a post-race beer tent, and while it’s fine to imbibe in one beverage if you so desire, make sure to drink water and/or sports drink first.
3. Chill Out
Consider soaking in a cold water or ice bath for five to 10 minutes and/or try wearing compression boots. Both may aid in decreasing inflammation in your legs and speed the rate of healing.
4. Get a Leg Up
Take 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.
5. Stretch, Roll, and Massage
Wait at least two to six hours after the race to stretch and foam roll and at least 24 hours for a massage. This allows your muscles time to replenish fluids and energy lost and recover from the demands of the race.
6. Give Yourself a Break
One of the most common mistakes runners make is running too soon after a marathon. Think of the marathon like a car accident (pleasant, huh?). Your body has been through a tough season of training and 42.2 kilometres on the road. The best way to recover is not to do more damage by going out for a run the next day (that is your ego talking).
Take the day to celebrate. Schedule a massage and do some light walking and stretching. Or tear a page from a good running book and take a month off to recover, do yoga, and cross-train.
For guidance, try this four-week plan:
Week 1: Cross-train, rest, and test the waters
Invest the first week in short, light effort, low-impact cross-training activities that will boost circulation, warm your muscles, and aid in the healing journey (think: walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga).
If all feels well later that week, run a short, easy-effort run (30 minutes) to test the waters.
Week 2: Run short and easy
If things still hurt, keep cross-training and let it simmer. If you feel good, start back to your normal running frequency in week two, but keep the effort easy and the distance shorter (30 to 60 minutes).
Week 3: Run longer and a little faster
If things are still going well and your body feels good, ease back into distance and intensity in week three.
Week 4: Return to regular volume or training
Now that you’ve slowly got your body back into a regular running routine, you can return to your pre-marathon schedule if you feel good. If you’re running multiple races in one season it is vital to invest in optimal recovery time.
The best thing you can do for yourself to keep performing race after race is giving yourself some time off. The off-season is a great time to take a break from running (at least intense running). Then, when you’re ready to return, start with more cross-training and slowly add back in intensity.