The Reverse Taper: Marathon Recovery
Many of you will be crossing the finish line of the Hartford marathon or half marathon this coming weekend. After taking some time to celebrate your accomplishment of not only finishing the race, but the dedication and months of training you have put in, your efforts should quickly turn to recovery. Recovery starts when you cross the finish line. Keeping some simple things in mind for your post-race routine will help you to recover quicker.
The last couple of weeks leading up to your marathon you were tapering, or going easier with your workouts and incorporating more rest into your routine. Post- marathon, you should reverse taper, and go easy for a couple of weeks after your race. Half marathons do not stress the body as much as a full, but you still need some time to recover.
The body undergoes some serious stress, not only during your race, but in the months leading up to it. It needs time to recover properly to avoid overtraining, injury, and decreased performance. Here are some key things that happen to the body during a marathon:
- The muscles of the legs become broken down and inflamed. It takes time for this inflammation to go away and for the muscles to return to their normal state.
- The glycogen stores of the muscles are depleted. This typically occurs around mile 20, when some people “hit the wall.” The muscles need to be properly refueled (more to come on this).
- Cellular levels of creatine kinase (CK), which is a marker of muscle breakdown, increase. This elevated level of CK in the blood can be present for as many as 3 – 7 days post-race, regardless of your level of muscle soreness. So, even if you think your muscles are fine, they’re not, they need rest!
Now that we see what actually happens to the body, we can better understand what we need to do to help it. Here are five key areas that you can focus on to help yourself:
1) Eat and drink – The 30 minute window after your race is the best time to start replenishing your body’s energy stores. A carbohydrate rich snack with some protein is the way to go to jump start recovery. You might feel like not eating immediately after your marathon, this step is so important, you have to try to get something in your stomach that you can tolerate. Re-hydrating is also necessary at this time, preferably with something that contains some electrolytes.
2) Move – When you finish your race, you are obviously going to be tired and you are going to want to sit or lay down. There is nothing wrong with that, and it’s actually encouraged. However, make sure you take some time to move your legs. Go for a light walk, if you have to travel after your race, stop often and get out and stretch and walk around. This will help the body to flush out toxins from the muscles and reduce next day soreness.
3) Massage, stretching, compression, and elevation – I know this sounds like a lot, but it all has to do with muscle recovery and some of the things can be done in conjunction with one another. Anything you can do to help encourage blood flow back to the heart will help with recovery. If you have compression socks or tights, wear them. Get them on as soon as possible after the race and wear them for as long as you can tolerate it. When you have the opportunity, elevate your legs. On the day of the race you might be too sore or tired to stretch or massage, that’s ok. The muscles have been through enough. Sometime in the next 1 – 3 days, start some gentle stretching and massaging of the leg muscles. Even getting a full body massage is a good idea. The upper body takes a beating during a marathon too!
4) Gradual return to running – Don’t make the mistake of returning to running too quickly. Sometimes people will be eager to return to running because they don’t want to lose fitness, or they are upset with their race time and want to get back to training. Think of the breakdown that occurs within the body. Don’t run for at least a few days. The amount of time that you take away from running will be different for everyone based on your level of experience. Replace runs with walks and cross training or rest. A general guideline is to wait one week before returning to running. The return to running should be short, easy miles. If you feel like you need to take more than one week off, then take it!
5) See the doctor – If you have had a nagging injury all through your training, or if something went wrong during your race and you are still hurting more than a few days after, now is the time to get things checked out. Months of training stresses the muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and joints. You want to get major damage to these structures ruled out. For a list of runner friendly doctors and therapists, click here.
You have put so much time and effort into training properly for your marathon. If you put the same effort into proper recovery, you will be a lot better off. If your goal is to run another race soon, whether it’s another marathon, half marathon, or even a 5k, you will be better prepared for it if you recovery properly. If you are thinking, “I will never run another marathon again!” at least you can recover properly from this one and move on with other activities injury free. As Olympic champion Frank Shorter put it, “you are not ready for another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.” So take your time, enjoy your accomplishment, and recover properly.
To help you recover, we have teamed up with Select Physical Therapy and Therapeutic Bodyworks to host a post- marathon Recovery Clinic (see side bar for more info).