Fact: Marathons are hard on the body. No matter your pace, you have been pounding for 26.2 miles, not to mention the months of hard training involved in preparation for the marathon. Your body needs a rest. Here are some tips to maximize marathon recovery.
It can be difficult for a dedicated runner to take a few days off after a marathon. Whether it is because of a fear of losing fitness, wanting to capitalize on a great race and fitness level, or a need to avenge a poor performance, runners frequently skimp on their recovery period, which can lead to injury and future poor performance.
There are differing opinions on post-marathon rest and how long it takes to fully recover. Some experts suggest one day rest for every mile of the marathon, meaning no hard running or racing for 26 days. Others say that is too much, and that two or three weeks is enough for most runners to recover. One suggestion is to approach recovery like a reverse taper. As you reduced mileage during the last three weeks before the marathon, now you can gradually add the mileage and intensity back into your training program.
6 Tips for Marathon Recovery
One thing every expert does agree on is that your body needs time to recover after a marathon. Here are some tips that can help you give your body the time to rest, refuel, and recover.
1. Recovery starts immediately after you cross the finish line
The moment you finish your marathon, you will be in recovery mode. Much of this comes naturally: you’re thirsty so you drink; you’re hungry so you eat. Take advantage of the water and food offered at the finish line. It will probably be something high in carbohydrates, like bagels or bananas, which will serve your immediate needs. For some it can be difficult to eat right after a marathon. Grab some of the available food and try to eat as soon as you can. A recovery drink, like Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator provides the proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates, plus other nutrients to help with recovery.
Depending on the weather, take steps to stay warm or cool down as soon as you finish the race. Most marathons provide Mylar blankets when the weather is cold, and at the 2014 Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego finishers were handed iced towels because the weather was quite warm. In either case, try to get to your own clothes and change into something dry as soon as possible.
As soon as you can, get completely off your feet. Sit down, elevate your feet, relax, and think about the amazing thing that you just accomplished.
2. Take a few days completely off
Continue your recovery by taking two or three days completely off exercising. No cross training, only light walking, and no running. During that time take care of any residual soreness or injuries with ice, gentle stretching, and (after the first day) heat. Many runners find the use of compression sock or sleeves (like Legend Compression socks or sleeves) to be helpful. They reportedly increase blood flow and lymph removal, which can speed recovery.
3. Eat for recovery
After a long hard effort like a marathon, your body needs to rebuild muscle and tissue that has broken down during the race. Make sure that your diet has a lot of carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, and plenty of protein. The protein will help rebuild your muscle, while the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables will help rebuild your immune system, something else that is compromised during a marathon run.
4. Get a massage or fascial stretch
A therapeutic massage aids marathon recovery by improving blood circulation and increasing the effectiveness of the circulatory system, which is responsible for oxygen transfer, nutrient delivery, and waste removal at a cellular level. Improved recovery comes with the faster, more efficient operation of these processes. Massage can also decrease soreness and improve the healing of connective tissue. Find a therapist that specializes in sports massage.
Fascial Stretch therapy is assisted stretching that targets not only the muscles, but the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, and joints. FST also targets the entire joint and joint capsule, using traction to remove restrictions from movement and to stimulate lubrication. A therapist will gently pull and move the arms, legs, spine, and neck in a smooth motion through varying planes of movement. There is no pain, not even discomfort. Instead, the gentle movement is stimulating and relaxing at the same time.
5. Take it easy for two weeks.
After the first few days, gradually return to running, starting with a few miles about three or four days out from the marathon. If things still hurt, take another day or two off. Take a few days off each of the two weeks, slowly increasing the mileage. Keep the intensity low during this time. Your runs should be at an easy, conversational pace.
6. Add a little speed in week three.
If everything feels good, you can add a little more intensity in week three, while gradually increasing your mileage. By the end of the week, you should be fairly well recovered and, depending on your race plans, be ready to resume training.
These tips will help you to return to training at a level that will lead to maximum results for your next race. Just remember: Recovery is an essential part of your training program, and should be treated as such.
Now it’s time for the Running Coaches’ Corner!
Updated from the original posted June 2014.
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