10 Post-Marathon Recovery Tips

By Iffley Road. Posted: April 24, 2017

The Spring Marathon season is well underway.  Whether you're doing London, Boston, Paris or another Spring marathon, few runners undertake a marathon lightly and this is bound to be one of your "A list" races in 2017.

After the massive physical and mental preparation necessary to do a marathon, it can be as overwhelming having finished as actually doing the event.

If you are new to running or to marathon, have you considered how to recover from a marathon as carefully as how to prepare?  In fact, recovering properly is crucial because it is likely to impact your future running.

So what is the best way to recover from a marathon?

Here are top 10 tips for post-marathon recovery:

1. Enjoy your achievement. 

Unfortunately too many runners don't take enough to revel in their achievement and live in the moment.  It's all too tempting to spend time regretting that it didn't go to plan or immediately planning your next race. 

Whether you achieved your target time or not, finishing a marathon is an incredible achievement. Sit back and allow yourself to reflect on that fact. As legend, Emil Zatopek said

"If you want to run a mile, run a mile.  If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon."

Enjoying your achievement after the marathon

2. If you didn’t finish or were unhappy with your time, take heart in the fact that there are always more marathons to race.

Admittedly a marathon is not like the weekly Parkrun, but nonetheless one can always enter another marathon. In terms of how many marathons one should run a year, Runner's World Coach, Jenny Hadfield says

"Runners who want to race a strong marathon and improve performance and speed should focus on no more than two marathons a year."

3. Consider your nutrition

Immediately after the race it's important to eat a small snack. While it's tempting to feel you deserve to eat whatever you like after a marathon, it's worth eating healthily.  As Jenny Hadfield of Runner's World says

"Post-race is more about getting in about 200-300 easily digested calories from carbohydrates and protein to maintain blood sugar levels, replenish muscle glycogen, and repair muscle tissue. Half of a turkey sandwich, carrots, and almond butter or pretzels will do the trick. If it’s a hot race, try liquid recovery drinks. If it’s cold, soup gets the job done. Continue to nibble on balanced snacks and meals that include three to four parts carbohydrate to one part protein. Sip fluids during the day to rehydrate."

    4. Rest up.

    Get lots of sleep and consider taking a day or two off work.

    If you've travelled abroad for the race, it's such a pity to get straight back on a flight as many runners do. It's difficult to focus on anything other than marathon before the race, so why not take a few days off, enjoy the city and become a regular tourist instead of runner?

    Hydrating after a marathon
    5. Have an ice bath.

    Mimic the elite - such as Paula Radcliffe - by taking an ice bath.  The theory behind this is that the ice bath helps to fight small tears in muscle fibres and resultant soreness caused by running.  The ice bath is believed to constrict blood vessels, flush waste product and reduce swelling and the breakdown of tissue.

    Some research shows that it’s beneficial to alternate an ice bath one day with a warm bath the next. Our personal tip is to wear a fleecy on top while you take the ice bath. 

    As Paula says

    "It's absolute agony, and I dread it, but it allows my body to recover so much more quickly." 

    6. Consider a sports massage. Even if you don’t normally have massages, these can really help your muscles recover, although it's better not to have the massage immediately after the marathon.

    Jason Fitzgerald, founder of Strength Running says

    "It's never recommended to get a massage the day of a marathon or the day after. There's a substantial amount of muscular damage after a race of this distance, including inflammation, so it's wise to let your body heal itself for the first one to two days."

    7. Give yourself a break from running.

    It's crucial to give yourself a break from running after a marathon. You’ll also feel much more motivated once you start again.  Coach, Jeff Gaudette of Competitor.com recommends runners take at least a week to recover from a marathon

    "Most coaches and elite runners suggest you should take one week off after a marathon, with a few very light jogs or even easy walks if you get too antsy. After a week off, training should be very light for two weeks post-race. It might sound like you would be holding yourself back by being so cautious, but your long-term progression will actually benefit as you allow your body to recover and get fully rested for your next training segment."

    8. If you’ve been sponsored, don’t forget to thank all your sponsors and let them know how you got on.

    It's very tempting - especially if you didn't achieve your target time - to go quiet after the marathon. Normally your sponsors won't care what time you achieved and will just be thrilled that you finished and raised funds for them.  So don't forget to thank your sponsors.

    9. Review your training and think how you might want to refine things for your next race.

    There's a big difference between chastising yourself for not achieving your target time and analysing how you might train differently next time.

    Once the dust has settled, it's worth sitting down with a more experienced runner or coach and analysing how your training went as well as how the race went on the day.

    After running for more than 30 years, I believe that what works for one runner is not the same as what works for another.  That's why blindly following a running programme is not always the best solution.  

    If you've done more than one marathon and followed different programmes, you might be able to see what worked and what didn't in terms of performance on the day.  This is likely to be much more useful than any marathon running programme.

    Reviewing your marathon experience

    10. Don’t start planning your next race yet

    Allow enough time to reflect properly on this one before you start planning your next race! Maybe sit down with a friend (or your coach if you have one) and think through what you enjoyed about the day and what you didn't.  Do you like large crowds and a carnival atmosphere or would you prefer a smaller field?  Would you like to race abroad?  Road or off-road? Running a marathon is a big decision, so make sure you've really chosen the best race for you.

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