How To Recover From Running A Marathon
Runners in the New York City marathon, November 2016. Photograph by Mr Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Why the bounce back starts before you cross the finish line.
It’s an inexperienced marathon runner who googles “recovery plan” the day after the race. As any seasoned athlete will tell you, bounce back starts the day of the event itself. Still, if you’re one of those inexperienced types, don’t worry – there are things you can do to lessen the excruciating muscle ache and fog of exhaustion that comes from slogging through the endless miles (or 26.2 in the case of the London Marathon at the end of the month). We asked three experts for their post-race advice.
Sure, you’ve just poured your all into a few (or many) painful hours, but don’t collapse at the finish line. Instead, walk – and keep doing it throughout the afternoon, says Mr Nick Anderson, England Athletics marathon development programme lead and founder of coaching service Running With Us. “Delayed onset muscle soreness [also known as DOMS, the hellish muscle pain caused by microscopic damage to the muscle fibres] will come out around 36 hours after the race and last one or two days,” he says. “Walking helps get oxygenated blood into the muscles, which will drive your recovery.” Aim to walk as much as is comfortable on race day, then walk 20-30 minutes every day for the first week, with light cross training such as swimming or cycling every two to three days for at least the first 10 days.
Eat protein, and don’t get drunk
“For muscle fibres to repair, you have to give them protein,” says Mr Anderson. “And for the body to absorb it, you have to have carbohydrates.” Within an hour of finishing, Mr Anderson recommends drinking a protein shake that contains the correct mix of protein, carbs and electrolytes – salts and minerals that are lost through sweat contribute to cramp and muscle fatigue. “Elite athletes would likely go back to their hotel and eat rice, vegetables and chicken.” If the pub, rather than a hotel, is your recovery base, then order fish and chips. As for post-mara boozing: “Have one because you’re thirsty and one to celebrate, but on the third one, prepare yourself for feeling lousy the next day,” says Mr Anderson. “The hangover will be greater because the dehydration was big to begin with, and you’re causing more damage to the muscle and tissue.”
Book a massage
Think of a sports massage as a post-marathon MOT. Mr Lloyd Kempson, professional athlete, coach and New Balance ambassador, will be getting one the day after his debut at this year’s London Marathon. “A sports massage isn’t about relaxing you, but rather reading tensions and addressing weaknesses,” he says. “It helps increase blood flow around the muscles and alleviates the buildup of lactic acid, which your body creates during strenuous exercise and causes fatigue and soreness.” If your DOMS won’t allow you to hobble to the physio within 24 hours, then anytime in the first week will still be beneficial.
Go on holiday
The week after a marathon, the endorphin rush will be long gone and few people will be interested in your PB or shiny medal. This is when the post-marathon blues can creep in. “Set new goals to help you focus during your recovery,” advises Mr Anderson. Get lots of sleep, which will help muscles recover, and bask in the freedom of a no-training schedule. “In the week days after the race, forget about running and go and enjoy yourself,” says Mr Anderson. “A lot of my athletes go on holiday – a great way to relax and then return refreshed and ready to train hard again.” A restorative retreat in the Maldives, anyone?
Go for a run (eventually)
Your return to running should be slow and mindful, advises Mr John Wilson, a coach with We Run. He recommends a “reverse taper”, starting with small runs, and slowly increasing to your pre-race training output. “If you’re feeling good and you don’t have injuries, try a gentle 20-minute run towards the end of the first or second week, keeping your pace at least two minutes a mile slower than your marathon pace,” says Mr Wilson. “The following week, introduce two or three runs but keep them between 50 and 75 per cent of your normal duration. After a week of that – and providing everything feels good – you can start to ramp up your training again.” Speaking of which…
Five UK-based marathons you can still get into this year
Expect pretty village roads, lots of trails and plenty of wild ponies on this undulating race through the New Forest. 8 September
A scenic course through Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace and the leafy streets of Richmond. 15 September
This spectacular point-to-point route starts on the edge of Loch Ness and ends in Inverness. 6 October
A gorgeous, almost entirely off-road race around the shores of Kielder Water. 13 October
PB chasers will love this fast, flat course through a mix of countryside and roads. 20 October