Congratulations, you’ve completed it. Whether it’s your first or 10th marathon your body will be experiencing soreness, tiredness and fatigue. It is understandable that your main focus would have been on the build up to the race; however the steps you take after crossing the line will help determine how smoothly you recover, allowing you to get back out training for the next big event. So here are my top tips for your optimum recovery…
At the finish line…
Although your natural instinct is for your body to drop to the floor in a heap after all that hard work, try to keep moving for 10-15 minutes after you finish. This can simply be walking around keeping your legs moving, alongside some gentle stretching of the leg muscles such as; calf’s, hamstrings and quadriceps. Aim to hold these gentle stretches for 30 seconds each.
Even though you will be hot and sweaty, try to change into some clean, dry clothes as soon as you can, as the sweat will soon dry and will cause unnecessary shivering, stealing energy required for tissue healing. Also try and put on some comfortable footwear i.e supportive sandals which enable your feet to breath after being cooped up for hours. A banana is a great snack to have whilst you are celebrating with friends/ family as soon as you have crossed the line.
I know it is tempting to go for the celebratory post marathon beer; however what you eat and drink straight after finishing is extremely important. It is vital that you begin to replenish depleted levels of fluids and electrolytes which have been lost from sweating. One of the key minerals lost is sodium. Electrolytes are essential minerals (including sodium) that the body needs to keep hydrated. They do this by drawing fluids into working muscles enabling them to contract efficiently. They also have other important roles such as regulating blood pressure and nerve signalling.
There are different ways of replacing lost electrolytes such as electrolyte drinks, electrolyte tablets for dissolving in water, salt capsules/sticks which can be taken directly and are a great way of replenishing sodium levels. Ensure to consume some good quality protein such as chicken or fish which will help kick-start the tissue healing process after the beating your muscles have just taken! Whole grain pasta and rice are a great source of carbohydrates which will be needed to help replenish your depleted glycogen (energy) stores.
A tasty way of making sure you are replacing all your mineral levels including magnesium, selenium, copper and zinc is to make a pre-bedtime snack such as oats made with whole milk, berries, coconut, pumpkin seeds and your choice of nuts.
Hot and cold contrast therapy
The most effective time to have cold exposure such as an ice bath is as close to finishing the marathon as possible. Running for 26.2 miles will have placed significant stress on your muscles and joints leading to inflammation and micro tears in the tissues. Exposing your body to ice is a great natural pain killer alongside reducing inflammation resulting in a quicker, less painful recovery. If you can, try and alternate this with hot water exposure which results in a really beneficial pumping effect.
The cold water decreases muscle temperature resulting in a narrowing of the blood vessels, whereas hot water will do the opposite by warming the muscles up and dilating the blood vessels. This pumping effect will help to remove any waste products from the tissues whilst bringing in higher levels of nutrient rich oxygenated blood to speed up tissue repair. An easy way to start this is in the shower with 2 minutes in hot water, then turning the temperature down for 30 seconds of cold water repeating this 3-4 times.
Sports therapy and chiropractic
Ideally it will be beneficial to have a sports massage that day and then again 48 hours post event. Sports massage directly after the event should consist of a lighter more moderate pressure with an aim to help flush out toxins which have built up with prolonged exercise whilst encouraging oxygenated blood and nutrients to the muscles stimulating tissue healing and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). After 48 hours the massage can be firmer, targeting the breakdown of any localised trigger points which can lead to pain and stiffness if left untreated.
Your sports Therapist can also go through specific stretches/foam rolling exercises which will speed up the recovery process. It is also very important to make sure you get checked by a chiropractor after the marathon as there will have been high levels of stress and impact throughout pelvis, spine and hips leading to stiffness and restricted range of motion. Your nervous system will also have been under significant stress during the race so ensuring you get adjusted will optimise and increase the body’s ability to heal itself.
The days following the marathon…
Naturally your body, the morning after a marathon, is going to feel quite fragile. However it is an important part of recovery to ensure you are keeping your body moving which will prevent things tightening up too much. The day after the race just go for a gentle walk accompanied by some gentle stretching. Your tissues and joints will still be stressed and inflamed so the last thing you want to do is increase this any further potentially slowing down recovery. The following days you can start to add it some cross training such as cycling or a very light jog. This will be kind on the joints and will keep the blood flow pumping to the muscles encouraging the healing process. Also you deserve to take it easy for the first week or so after all that hard work you have put in to completing this amazing physical and mental feat.
By following these steps your recovery will be as comfortable as possible and hopefully it won’t have totally deterred you from planning that next big event…