Crossing the finish line of any marathon is a fantastic achievement, and one that marks the end of many months of training and planning. It’s a time to relax and celebrate with your friends and family, and you should go ahead and do just that, but bear in mind that there is one more stage of your marathon to go. Fortunately it’s the easiest stage of all – the recovery.
Many runners, especially first-time marathoners, will overlook the importance of planning their post-race recovery. If you intend to carry on running after your marathon it’s vital to consider what your body needs to get back into a good condition after the race. And even if you have no intention of ever running again, you’ll want to minimise the unpleasantness that can arise after pounding pavements for 42.2km.
“The final stage of a marathon training plan should always be recovery,” says Kathy Scorer, senior physiotherapist at Nuffield Health.
“Recovery is essential for minimising your injury risk, and skipping this vital stage can often inhibit your future performance. Running a marathon puts a huge amount of physical strain on the body, whether it’s your first or your tenth. Your immune system will be suffering and your muscles will be severely fatigued.”
The first step of your recovery should be to run through a quick check of your body and work out if you’ve picked up any injuries in the race. There will naturally be some pain and muscle tightness after running that far, but it’s important to separate short-term niggles from potential long-term injuries.
“If you’ve suffered a muscle strain or are feeling pain in a joint, you may need advice or treatment,” says Scorer. “If pain or injury persists, listen to your body and get it checked out immediately.”
If you have not been struck down with injury, then the next step is to NOT RUN. If you’ve become used to running regularly during your marathon training you might feel the itch to get back out there, but resist that temptation.
“I often see overuse injuries a couple of weeks after a marathon when runners have tried to get back into training too quickly,” says Scorer. “In the first couple of days after the event you shouldn’t be doing any running.
“The most common concern that drives people to overtrain too quickly is loss of fitness, but there is little loss of conditioning in the couple of weeks you take off to recover.
“Keep active by doing gentle, low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming to avoid overtaxing yourself.”
Marathon Recovery Checklist
Follow this post-marathon list from Scorer to ensure you recover from your race properly.
After The Race
- Get out of your wet clothes and into warm dry clothes as soon as possible.
- Put your feet up for ten minutes – literally. For example, lie on your back with your legs up against a tree. This will help reduce the build-up of fluid.
- Drink sugary drinks to get some calories and rehydrate quickly.
- Assess any blisters or injuries. Make sure the blisters are clean and dry and if you have any muscle or joint pain, put some ice or cold water on the area for 20 minutes every two hours.
- Eat a balanced meal, including carbohydrates and protein.
- Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep.
The Next Day
- Avoid being in a static position for too long (apart from when sleeping).
- Take a 15- to 30-minute walk or a gentle cycle.
- Continue eating balanced meals.
- Gently massage and stretch your calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads.
72 Hours After
After the first 72 hours you should be over the worst, but that doesn’t mean you should start running again. The earliest you should consider running is seven days after the event, but the optimum recovery time is 14 days. If you can, hold off from running and restrict yourself to low-impact activities instead.