Now a two-time marathoner, the words I write here come from experience. After my first 26.2 I did things all wrong and ended up limping around my college campus for a week. After my second marathon, I was walking without a problem 48 hours later. I did some research after realizing how vastly improved my second recovery period was. Here are the compiled results of my research and experience:
First 5 Minutes
Move – Keep those tired legs walking through the start coral, don’t sit or lay down.
Carb Up – Eat a banana, pretzels, or whatever looks good at the finish line spread to get 200-300 calories of carbs back into your system.
Change – Get into warm, dry clothes as soon as possible. Pack a full change of clothes in your checked dry bag, including shoes.
First 5 Hours
Eat – Eat whatever looks good. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein is best for recovery. The carbs replenish your body with the energy it just lost; the proteins help rebuild the muscles you just tore up.
Walk – It will be painful, but walking up to a mile after you finish will vastly improve how well you recover the next few days. Laying in bed for the rest of the day will almost guarantee you’ll feel awful for several days to come.
Shower – Use this to get warm or to cool down as needed. This is a good time to check in with your body and see how you’re feeling. Often you will not notice chafing until you step into that stream of water. Alternate between hot and cold water to stimulate blood flow.
Ice – An ice bath after your shower will feel incredible and work wonders for recovery. If you do not have the resources to sit in a tub of ice and water, compromise with ice packs or an ice massage (dixie cups full of frozen water).
First 5 Weeks
Sleep – Prioritize your sleep schedule the week following your race. Soreness might prevent you from a good night of sleep right after the race, but catching up through the rest of the week will speed recovery.
Move – Make an effort to take short walks during the days after the race. 3 to 4 days out, hop on a bike to get your blood flowing.
Check-in – Once the soreness goes away, it’s time to see if your body has been hiding an injury from the race. Walk, bike, and jog with the intention of looking for any abnormal pain that might be worth attention.
It is no secret that your marathon is going to wear your down physically. What is not as often acknowledged is the marathon’s ability to wring you out emotionally. Intentionally lightening your load for the week following your race to give yourself space to rest your mind will help your brain recover. Plan some time for activities you know will revive your soul. This can include time to journal about the race, scheduling dinner out with a close friend, or a solo road trip to your favorite spot. Whatever it is that rejuvenates you, plan on doing it the week after your race!
Now go out there and smash each of those 26.2 miles.