I hope this article finds its way into your hands before your feet complete those 26.2 miles and cross the finish line. If you have managed to stay healthy throughout your pre-race training or only had to battle a few roadblocks, you can already consider yourself a winner. What most people tend to forget, and it is the reason that I am writing this article, is appropriate post-race care.
Immediately following the race:
- Do keep moving. Although you and your legs may be exhausted, it is important to remain moving at a slow pace for the next 5-10 minutes. Remaining in motion will help in reducing your heart rate, blood pressure and dizziness as well as in dissipating lactic acid and blood pooling in the lower extremities,
- Do find some dry, warm clothing. Whether it be sweat or rain, leaving wet or damp clothing on never feels great and can ultimately lead to a chill.
- Do find something to eat. You aren’t looking for a huge meal here but rather a couple of snacks in the first thirty minutes following the race with good nutritional value that will help to replenish the depleted muscle fuel stores and will aid in beginning to repair the damaged soft tissues. Examples such as an energy or protein bar, banana or other fruit, nuts, bagels, and sports drinks.
- Do not stretch or get a massage immediately. It has been long debated whether or not runners should stretch following the race. Regardless of the experts individual opinions on stretching, nearly all of them agree that stretching a fatigued muscle is not a great idea due to the potential for over stretching and causing muscle cramps and strains. If you are feeling like you deserve a massage following the race be sure to wait until you are completely cooled down and then speak with the massage therapist and ensure that they are a certified Sports Massage Therapist.
- Do get into an ice bath. Later that day or night, when you arrive back home or to your hotel room, consider jumping into an ice bath with your lower body submerged for about 15 minutes. Ice is great for muscle soreness and inflammation that will aid in your healing process and will leave your lower body feeling refreshed.
Days and weeks following the marathon:
- Do get a massage now. If you are 2-3 days out from finishing those 26.2 miles and you are still feeling that muscle soreness it is now time to schedule that massage you have been dreaming of!
- Don’t spend your days couch surfing. Getting up and getting our blood flowing will help reduce that achy feeling. Consider going for shorter walks or an easy bike ride in the 2-3 days following your race. If you must return to work and are stuck behind your desk all day remember to get up and walk around a few times throughout the day to eliminate the muscle stiffness.
- Do scale back your exercise and REST. Marathon runners need to be reminded that taking a few days to a week off to rest and recover will not hurt their fitness level. Some professionals and runners believe that taking 7-10 days off completely due to the tremendous amount of stress placed on your body is the way to go. Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument some believe that heading out for a short run the very next day will help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and will speed up one’s recovery.
So now that I may have confused you and you are left with the feeling of what should I do I will leave you with some science so you can decide for yourself… VO2 max is an individual’s maximum ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise and is one of the best measurements of a runner’s physical fitness as well as a baseline to compare the effect of detraining the aerobic system. With this in mind, studies have shown that there is little reduction in VO2 max- 1-3 %- in the first 6-7 days following inactivity in a well-trained runner. If we spread our rest out even further to about 2 weeks the same studies have shown that the VO2 max only decreases about 6%. If you did the math, you should have realized that taking one to two weeks of rest time will not add too much time onto your PR but it will give your body adequate time to recover.
The most important advice I can leave you with today is to listen to your body along the way because nobody knows you better than you. Good luck to all marathon runners out there; whether it be your first or last!
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.