Marathon Training: Race Recovery

Marathon Cheer

Congratulations! You made it! As you probably can tell by now, running a marathon can take its toll on the body. Muscle soreness, overworked ligaments, worn-out cells and even some immune suppression can all hit you. Your body’s had to endure a lot to get you through 42Km and it’ll want a well-earned break.

In order to maximise your recovery, you need to ensure that you eat well in the days after the race. Remember to take in lots of protein, amino acids, vitamin c and potentially some joint care supplementation, in order to repair damaged tissue. Be sure to include carbohydrate in your meals in order to replenish glycogen stores.

In the days following the race, ensure you keep moving and make sure you stretch and mobilise. I always try and do 3 sets of 10 air-squats within a couple of hours of finishing a race. This will help clear out lactic acid and reduce your muscles from ceasing up. Another thing I find helpful is compression stockings and leg elevation. Here’s a handy little trick for leg elevation: don’t elevate your legs in bed using pillows. This forces the knees to hyper-extend and it also means you can’t elevate your legs if you lie on your side or on your front. Instead, try elevating the end of the bed a couple of inches. Typically I put a few books/magazines under the bottom two legs, thereby putting the bed on a small incline which allows the legs to always be above the level of your heart:

 Leg elevation

Over the next few days, I would suggest a light cycle or swim. In terms of training though, try and give your body a break. By all means, take the following 2-3 weeks off and if you’re going to train, make sure it’s mainly cross-training. Avoid running, but if you do run, make sure you keep it light: 20 minutes at an easy pace. 

Think about getting a sports massage or seeing an osteopath. The idea with this is to try and release any trigger points, loosen tightness and aid with lactic acid clearance. Sauna and steam room sessions, with alternating cold immersion will help shift lactic acid from your muscles and aid your recovery. (Just make sure you rehydrate well, as you can lose a lot of fluid in those places).

In the coming days or even weeks, you’ll start to feel very strange. You’ll have feelings of elation, thinking back at your achievement, but may also be times when you’ll feel really down and lonely. This is perfectly normal: you’ve just spent months training and within a few hours you’re all done. I find that the tougher the event the bigger the swing of these emotions. You need to make sure you keep doing things, not necessarily just training, but just being active; hanging out with friends is what works for me. Alternatively start focusing on a new goal (assuming it doesn’t involve starting your training immediately).

If by any chance you were one of the unlucky DNF’s (Did Not Finish), I assure you you’ll be feeling very down indeed. Don’t despair! Last summer I was at the start line of the UTMB, having needed to complete qualifying races and three years of not getting through the ballot. I managed to sprain my ankle on the 3rd Km, having to pull out at 21k. I felt horrible for about a month, until a friend said: “The mountain will always be there”. There are plenty more races round the corner.