When you’ve been training for months on end for a marathon or ultra, the big day looms and life beyond the finish line can seem a world away. With a medal finally round your neck and a great achievement to celebrate, you hobble off into the crowd and, eventually, home. But what thought have you given to your recovery, if any? What can you expect in terms of getting over what is perhaps the biggest running event of your life, and what can you do to help yourself? You only have one body, and running a marathon will have battered it in many ways, so treat it kindly!
For the first 24 hours:
* Keep moving! From the moment your feet cross the timing mat and your 26.2 miles is over, keep moving if you can. Whether it’s a gentle stroll back to your hotel, or a very easy swim the next day, easy movement will keep the blood flowing to your muscles and enable their repair to start straight away. The more you sit or lie down, the harder it will be to get moving again.
* Eat and drink well; as soon as you can after you have finished, try to eat something. It doesn’t need to be much, but the sooner you can start to replace the carbohydrates and fluids you have used, and the protein your muscles will crave for recovery, the better. If you can face it, your body will thank you for good quality food, but if you crave a visit to McDonalds and a pint, then this is probably the time to do it!
* Be aware that you might not be able to sleep the night after your big run. Whilst some people can crash out with no problem, you might find yourself tossing and turning all night. Sore legs, high sugar or caffeine levels from all those gels, and a body pumped full of adrenaline can keep you awake no matter how exhausted you are!
Beyond the first 24 hours:
* Don’t expect an instant recovery! Running a marathon or beyond takes a great toll on your body and it is often said that full recovery can take at least one day per mile raced, if not longer; that’s nearly a month before you can even begin to expect to feel physically back to normal.
* Keep moving! Being physically active will help your recovery, there’s no doubt, but don’t expect to be able to pick up your running where you left off. For the first week, if not even longer, avoiding the high impact of running is a good way to go; use the time to do some easy swimming, cycling or walking instead, or perhaps tackle that garden work you’ve been meaning to do for a while!
* Once the first few days are over, you might want to consider a sports massage, just to give your legs a helping hand; earlier than this and they might be too sore.
* Keep eating well. You’ll probably feel extra hungry for a few days, so go with it and give your body the calories it needs, before adjusting back to a more normal diet to avoid weight gain.
* Expect to feel down for while; post-marathon blues are common. Once the goal you have trained so hard for has been and gone, a void in your life appears. Why not use the time to catch up with all the people you’ve neglected whilst training, redecorate the house or take a holiday? Having some non running-related concrete plans will help.
* By all means share in the joy and post-event euphoria on social media and in your running group, but remember to do what feels right for you. If everyone else appears to be out training again within days of the race, it doesn’t mean you should do that too. Just because someone else claims they can run a half-marathon the weekend after (a few exceptional people can, and a few more will with a bit of pain!), there’s no need for you to sign up too. Rest and recovery are key to maintaining a healthy, injury-free life as a runner, so take advantage of some good quality down-time to let your body heal.
Training for, and then running, 26.2 miles or more is a big ask of your body, so reward it with the rest and recovery time it deserves and you will be a better, stronger runner in the long term for it.