You have had the marathon date in your mind for months, have trained hard in the lead up, and pushed yourself to the brink to squeeze valuable seconds off your finishing time. You crossed the line, and felt a mixture of elation, exhaustion, and relief, but overall, a great sense of achievement. But what now?
The days and weeks after a marathon are absolutely essential to your future success in running, your health, and your re-integration into normal life after the climax of completing the 26.5-mile challenge. Hers are some things that are absolutely essential to recovering from the marathon.
Its impossible to do a marathon without sweating, therefore it stands to reason that you need to replace the lost fluids and nutrients that escaped through your pores on the road. Make sure you are drinking 2-3 litres of water per day consistently in the weeks after the race. Staying hydrated will ensure that your blood is delivering key nutrients to the muscles, and allowing them to repair themselves.
This is a key point, but often ignored by the initiated and uninitiated alike. You can feel a great sense of elation and invincibility after completing a challenge such as a marathon, and you might even feel like you could go an do another one tomorrow. However, your body does need a rest after such demanding challenges. In the week after the marathon, cut your training way back to a few easy jogs at most. See your training in the weeks after a marathon simply as active recovery to keep the muscles ticking over, but do not chase more training gains as your body will break down.
Rethink your training focus
If you have trained specifically for the marathon, it means that you have clocked up a serious amount of mileage in the legs, culminating in the mammoth challenge of the race. What you need to do now is change the focus of your physical activity for a few weeks. Instead of running, cycle, swim, play tennis or some other unrelated sport. As well as giving mental relief, this shift in focus will divert stress away from the same joints that have been consistently hammered in the moths leading up to the big race. Gradually reintroduce running when you know its right. If you have to think about whether you should go back to running or not, it’s probably too soon. Everybody’s body will recover at their own rate, and your joints and future performances will thank you for listening to your body.
Restore The Tissue Quality
The repetitive motion of running will build up a lot of tension in certain areas of the body. Outside of the calves, inside of the knee (vastus medialis), outside of the upper leg (ITB), and the glutes all take a hammering during the marathon. This is the prime time to start gently restoring the tissue quality with light massage, foam rolling, and interspersed mobility exercises. This topic is deserving of its own article, but do not gloss over this point. Blow the cobwebs off that foam roller and start loosening up the calves. Failure to do this will results in a catastrophic accumulation of tension in the muscles that will lead to injury sooner or later.
Refuel with the right stuff
You need protein after the marathon. You also need carbohydrates, and fats. Eat natural unprocessed foods, and plenty of it. Your muscles and joints are in recovery mode, and your requirement for nutrients is increased big-time after running for 26.5 miles. Refer to the ACLAÍ Nutrition Pyramid for a guide to what and when you should be eating. You will supercharge your recovery time, and minimise the time that you feel like you just got your ass kicked by the marathon Gods by eating the right stuff here. Inflammatory foods that are deep fat fried, fast food, and refined carbohydrates are the enemy of recovery, so keep it natural, and fill your boots!
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.