You have just finished 26.2 miles of pavement pounding effort and you're spent, what's next? Proper active recovery gets you back on the running paths gliding along effortlessly in no time. However, start back too soon and you could experience injury and fatigue. Here's a step-by-step guide to assist you in the important post-marathon recovery process.
Recovery really starts at the finish line. Your body is depleted of fluids and food and in an inflamed state, therefore you need to feed it the nutrients it requires and tend to anti-inflammatory practices to speed this process along.
Your first order of priority is to have some healthy foodand fluids. Bone broth is a great way to replenish fluids and also some needed vitamins and monerals. Also, don;t forget to re-hydrate right away, that's a must. Try and consume something that is nurishing right after your race, that's when your body is open and ready for repair, give it good nutrition!
Your next priority is to find a place to elevate your legs for a few minutes, simply lie down and put you legs up a tree or a wall. This will initiate the anti-inflammatory process and quicken the recovery process. Then, if possible to keep the inflammation low, ice-down your legs. I encourage endurance athletes to ice-down after every workout longer than an hour in duration.
Exercise causes local inflammation to occur in the muscles and joints; to proactively re-vitalize your legs, immediate post-exerciseicing is the key. After your cool-down and leg elevation a good idea is to seek out a shower where you can spray cold water on your legs. A good hand-held shower nozzle works best. Some people soak in a tub or fill a garbage can full of cold water, however you accomplish it, ice those legs - leave the hot tub for later.
Another helpful tip is to take off your running shoes. Have some sandals that have arch support and are open-toed handy. Often this change will give your arches the support they need, your toes a break, and the barefoot feel will help your skin breathe and feel much better. It’s also a good idea to stay warm and dress in some loose fitting clothing, nothing tight or binding. After the race you're more sensitive to aggravating stresses, so dress for comfort and warmth.
Keep walking. Mild aerobic exercise has been shown to promote recovery. I suggest that you walk slowly and easily right after your run, and go for a 10-20 minute walk later that evening. For the next two to four days just walk. Walk in small amounts and don't sit or lie down for extended periods of time. Monitor how you feel, and only initiate running when your legs feel fresh and you have the itch to run again. This varies for each individual, but follow your intuition, as running too soon is the leading cause of overuse injuries.
Some hot tub therapy the evening of and in the days after your race will do wonders for promoting circulation and loosening up your joints and muscles. The rule of thumb here is to ice immediately post-race and then heat afterwards. This combination of hydrotherapy will make you feel great and keep you limber. I also suggest mild yoga or stretching in the first few days post-marathon: the key here is to stretch only to your first sensation of tension and leave it there. This might seem like you're hardly stretching at all, but that's the objective. Very mild stretching is the key; all you want to do is simply loosen yourself up. Go by feel and allow your body to guide you.
Once the soreness has subsided, your legs feel fresh walking, and you've waited until you get the itch-to-run, then you may pick up the pace and break into your endurance stride. I suggest 10 minutes on your first day back. Keep it short and easy. Alternate days of walking and running in the first few weeks, and add only about 5 minutes to each run. Each day your legs should be feeling recovered and stronger, be wary of any tightness or any sensations of pain. If this is the case, then back off and heed the call for more rest and rejuvenation. Add another walk day to your recovery program if this occurs, and adjust your workouts based on feel. Remember you're your own best coach; learn to listen to your body.
The standard recovery formula is to rest a day for every mile you race, which means for a marathon you should recover for about a month. Athletes over 40 may want to recover a day for every kilometer raced, or about 40 days if you've just raced a hard marathon. This simply means it takes about that amount of time for you to fully regenerate and repair the deep tissue stress. Allow yourself permission to take this length of time to ramp up to your previous training levels. Of course, if you simply ran the race for training at an easier pace this recovery time could be shorter. Again, go by feel. As the weeks progress you will feel stronger and eager to run. If not, back off to where you feel like you're under doing your training and allow body rejuvenation to guide you back toward running.
The key to proper recovery is to listen to your body. If you follow your intuition you can't go wrong. What you want to avoid is running when you're stiff or sore or when your mind is pushing your body to run as a means to an end. This will cause you to run with a slightly different technical alignment, as your body naturally compensates to run pain-free. This compensation can contribute to injury. Try to avoid this situation, and only run fresh and with good form.
One last point, you may go through the post-race-blues syndrome. This is natural, you've just spent a considerable amount of time preparing for your event and accomplishing your goals, so an emotional let down is natural. Know that this is normal and allow yourself to let go of rigid training schedules for a while. Be spontaneous and let your body and intuition dictate your exercise program. It's from this open space that the seeds of a new goal will flourish.
Follow these simple rules for effortless recovery, and you'll be back planning your next race in no time.