You've sprinted, sweated, self-motivated, and finished your first marathon. Hooray for you -- and keep moving because the finish line, or wherever you decided to end your marathon, is only the beginning. You might be in the best shape of your life but, without a smart post-race protocol, your heroic effort could lead to exhaustion, a depressed immune system, over-training or stress injuries, and a glum case of the post-marathon blues.
Breaking the Tape
First or 400th across that finish line, just keep moving to let your breathing, circulation and heart rate gradually return to normal. Don't just push yourself to the max for 26.2 miles and then stop -- too jarring. Instead, smile for the cameras, grab a sports drink to replace fluids and electrolytes, wrap yourself in a thermal blanket or a dry sweat shirt, and walk for at least 10 to 15 minutes -- a mile walk as a cool-down is good. Eat something high-carb and easy to digest, such as a banana or yogurt. Continue to hydrate and snack throughout the rest of the day to replenish fluids, balance blood sugar levels, begin the repair of muscle tissue and build up depleted muscle glycogen stores.
In the Short Run
Within the first few hours after the race, take a shower, put on clean dry clothes, and dry supportive shoes to minimize feet swelling. Some runners use compression leggings for the same reason but a good rest with your feet elevated will help to restore your body's equilibrium. Do some very gentle stretches in a cool pool, if you are lucky enough to have access to one. Get a quick, easy massage -- schedule a real massage for two days out, once your muscles have started to recover. Don't jump on your spin machine but do keep walking, taking short legs-up breaks, and nibbling healthy snacks. Include a little protein to speed muscle repair. Tend to your injuries -- blisters, scrapes, bruised toenails or any other damage can be minimized and recovery time shortened when injuries are dealt with promptly.
Skip the "Dumb Run"
You're a runner, you want to get back on your feet and log those daily miles right away. Bad move. Every body is different but it's typical to need about a week for the most serious soreness, the sign of muscle fiber damage, to ease up. Don't resume running for several days to at least a week after a marathon. Some conservative runners wait a day for every mile run but most marathoners want to maintain their conditioning, and prepare for the next competition. Give yourself a few days dedicated to resting, walking and gentle stretching. Phase in swimming, light cycling or some very low-key cross-training. And resume running slowly with short, relaxed runs that gradually increase to pre-marathon training or normal fitness levels.
All in Your Mind
Marathon training is a kind of cocoon of purpose -- everything revolves around your training schedule and your life is pitched toward a single defining event. Once that's behind you, a black hole of nothing gapes ahead, compounded by stiff, sore muscles and the humiliation of having to crab down the stairs backwards until your legs recover. So, what happens when there was just one overwhelming thing to do, and you've already done it? You get mentally tough. You did it to avoid hitting the wall at 20-plus miles. Now you do it to stay mentally agile and upbeat post-marathon. Give yourself a new long term goal -- a half-marathon three to six months out, a round-the-bay sailboat race. Analyze your marathon to plan a stronger performance next time, then let it go. Reconnect with the friends you shelved in favor of training, and enjoy the brag sessions. You earned them, and they're good practice for next time.
- Hal Higdon: Marathon Training Guide - Marathon Recovery
- The New York Times: How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Marathon?
- Running Competitor: The Importance Of Recovery After A Marathon
- Active: 3 Phases of Post-Marathon Recovery
- Marathon Guide: Recovering From Boston
- Time: How Marathon Runners Can Avoid the Post-Race Blues
- Photo Credit TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images
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