You just ran a marathon! Whether it was your first one, a PR, or you barely made it to the finish line, it is a massive accomplishment. Soak it in.
A common question we get from our runners at Perfect Stride is – what’s next? Whether this is in regard to marathon recovery techniques, when to get back into running, or how to set racing goals for the future, this is top of mind after the finish line for most runners. In this blog, we give our perspective on evidence-based marathon recovery tips, the appropriate time to resume training, and how to reflect on your recent race to maximize your approach and performance to your next one.
After you cross the finish line:
A smart approach to race day marathon recovery is key. Barring any serious health or medical concerns upon finishing, we recommend you try to walk around. While it may be tempting to lie flat on the ground afterwards, getting 10-15 minutes of slow walking in allows your heart rate to return to baseline and give your muscles a gentle cooldown.
Most runners will experience muscle soreness after their race, but resist the temptation to take ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories. These medications block inflammation, which your body actually needs to repair damaged muscle tissue. Running longer distances causes microscopic tearing in muscle tissue and soreness is expected afterwards. Marathon recovery will (understandably) cause increased soreness levels given the duration and prolonged intensity inherent in the race.
It may go without saying, but getting proper nutrition and hydration are immensely important for proper marathon recovery. The energy expenditure of the effort alone can total >2600 calories (depending on a variety of factors: pace, body weight, race conditions, etc.). Choosing balanced, frequent meals throughout the day afterwards is crucial to proper muscle recovery. Alcohol also impairs recovery due to its impact on intestinal inflammation and enhancement of muscle soreness symptoms. If you’re celebrating, be mindful not to overdo it. We are not registered dieticians at Perfect Stride, but you can check out a recent blog post we wrote alongside claire shorenstein(Eat for Endurance, RD) to learn more about fueling for runners to maximize your marathon recovery.
It’s highly likely you will be tired after your race and the quality of sleep afterwards is key to your marathon recovery. Sleep is our greatest recovery tool and being mindful to account for the increased rest you will need in the week following the marathon (not just the night after). Try to account for the additional hours you may need to truly rest after the effort (we’re talking about 8-9+ hours).
The week(s) following:
If you take nothing else from this blog, remember this: don’t jump into training again too fast!
Even if you feel great afterwards, your body needs time for true marathon recovery (no runner is immune to this). If you return to training too soon, you increase your risk of overuse injuries and overtraining symptoms. The immune system is also compromised after a marathon. Maximizing smart nutrition, hydration, and sleep in the weeks following is key to avoiding an unwanted illness (especially given the current pandemic).
In the days following your race, we recommend doing a body and symptom assessment. If you are noticing areas of pain that are not dissipating, difficulty walking beyond typical muscle soreness, or abnormal bruising or swelling, get it checked out! Physical therapists are well equipped to screen injuries and refer out to physicians if necessary. New York’s direct access laws allow DPTs to evaluate and treat patients for up to 10 visits (or 1 month) without a prescription. If you need a professional set of eyes on you, do not hesitate to see a physical therapist (we are in Union Square for any local runners).
1-2 weeks off from running is the standard guideline, but every runner is different. Many individuals may need more than 2 weeks to feel ready to run again. You should not still be sore or fatigued when you next go for a jog. However, light swimming, cycling, and mobility work is recommended during this period of relative rest, assuming your body is feeling up for it.
If your primary complaint in the week after is soreness, there are a few recovery tools that can aid in muscle repair and blood flow stimulation throughout your body. These include foam rolling, compression boots, massage gun use, and professional massage. Mobility exercises can also help your body reset and aid in overall marathon recovery. Need exercise ideas? Check out our instagram!
Looking ahead to your next race:
You will probably have a few takeaways from your marathon. Reflecting on a few questions can help frame your race beyond a finishing time and help guide what is next for you.
- What went well?
- Where do you have room for improvement?
For both of these prompts, consider your build-up. Maybe you slacked on strength training or making time for recovery tools throughout the training cycle. Sleep and nutrition are areas most athletes have space for growth. Did you experience pain or an injury during training? Did you lack motivation a few months into training that made it tough to get out the door for a long run?
Then, think about race day. If you have a wearable, look at your pacing by mile. While course terrain varies, it can be helpful to evaluate how your race progressed. Did you go out too fast? Did you hit a wall 20 miles in? Did you modify your pace in relation to elevation changes?
When discussing athletic performance and goal-setting, we like to reference James Clear’s 1% rule (Atomic Habits). Running a marathon is rarely only about the act itself. The daily choices in your build-up likely made all of the difference in how race day played out. Clear’s concept of marginal gains is based on math. If we are 1% better every day, the outcome can be remarkable a year later. Considering the variability in approach to training, it’s a worthwhile read: https://jamesclear.com/marginal-gains. Need ideas?
- Incorporate a dynamic warm-up before your runs
- Aim for 8 hours (or more) of sleep per night
- Eat a protein-rich snack or meal within an hour after your workout
- Get a professional gait analysis to identify issues before they turn into injury
- Track running mileage on your shoes to avoid over-wearing them
Taking the time to reflect can help you choose your next athletic goal. Maybe you need a break from training and prefer to focus on another mode of exercise for a while. Or maybe you can’t wait to train for your next marathon. Whatever you choose to pursue next, having a timely reflection of your recent race is a great resource to reference in the future and a good ritual to round out your marathon recovery.
Need some professional help in your marathon recovery? Whether you are in New York City or elsewhere, we offer recovery sessions, movement screens, and physical therapy specifically tailored to runners. Reach out to us today for a free 15-minute discovery call to learn more about our rehab and performance services to maximize your athletic goals and meet your marathon recovery goals https://perfectstridept.com/contact-us/
While we are not licensed professionals in nutrition, the team at Perfect Stride is well-equipped to help with your injury, movement, and training needs. Reach out to us today for a free 15-minute discovery call to learn more about our rehab and performance services to maximize your athletic goals. https://perfectstridept.com/contact-us/