Completing a marathon is a wonderful achievement, and one that is generally the culmination of many months of training and planning. A marathon is also just about as physically demanding and painful a feat as many people will attempt in their lifetime (mothers excluded), so it is worth not only considering the work required in order to complete it, but also the steps you need to take afterwards to help your body recover.
“The final stage of a marathon training plan should always be recovery,” says Kathy Scorer, senior physiotherapist at Nuffield Health.
“Recovery is essential for minimising your injury risk, and skipping this vital stage can often inhibit your future performance. Running 42.2km puts a huge amount of physical strain on the body, whether it’s your first marathon or your tenth. Your immune system will be down and your muscles will be severely fatigued.”
The first thing to do in terms of recovery is assess whether you have picked up any injuries during the marathon itself.
“If you’ve suffered a muscle strain or are feeling pain in a joint you may need advice or treatment,” says Scorer. “If pain or injury persists, listen to your body and get this checked out immediately.”
If you have avoided injury, the next step is not to risk one by starting to run again too soon.
“I often see overuse injuries a couple of weeks after a marathon where runners have tried to get back into training too quickly,” says Scorer. “In the first couple of days after the event you shouldn’t be doing any running.”
“The most common concern which drives people to overtrain too quickly is loss of fitness, but there is little loss of conditioning in the couple of weeks you take off to recover.
“Keep active by doing gentle, low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming to avoid overtaxing yourself.”
Marathon Recovery Checklist
Follow this post-marathon list from Scorer to ensure you recover from your race properly.
After The Race
- Get out of your wet clothes and into warm dry clothes as soon as possible.
- Put your feet up for ten minutes – literally. For example, lie on your back with your legs up against a tree. This will help reduce the build-up of fluid.
- Drink sugary drinks to get some calories and rehydrate quickly.
- Assess any blisters or injuries. Make sure the blisters are clean and dry and if you have any muscle or joint pain, put some ice or cold water on the area for 20 minutes every two hours.
- Eat a balanced meal, including carbohydrates and protein.
- Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep.
The Next Day
- Avoid being in a static position for too long (apart from when sleeping).
- Take a 15- to 30-minute walk or a gentle cycle.
- Continue eating balanced meals.
- Gently massage and stretch your calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads.
72 Hours After
After the first 72 hours you should be over the worst, but that doesn’t mean you should start running again. The earliest you should consider running is seven days after the event, but the optimum recovery time is 14 days. If you can, hold off from running and restrict yourself to low-impact activities instead.