By: Kerry Gustafson, LAT, ATC, LMT — Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Kerry Gustafson is the owner and visionary of Prime Sports Institute, a multi-disciplinary sports medicine clinic focused on helping individuals maintain healthy, active lifestyles through a comprehensive approach to wellness. An athletic trainer for more than 19 years, Kerry's specialties include the evaluation and rehab of injuries, running gait analysis and screenings to identify imbalances, mobility and movement dysfunctions.
You've been following a marathon training plan for months, meticulously sticking to your workouts as you count down the weeks to race day. But, here's an important question: What happens after you cross the finish line? Read on for tips to build your post marathon recovery plan now, so you can feel as good as possible right after your watch hits 26.2, and in the days that follow.
Immediate Post Marathon Recovery — What To Do Right After You Cross the Finish Line
Walk around in your mylar blanket to prevent your muscles from seizing up, and get some post-race recovery nutrition of carbs, protein, and water. If you've signed up for a post-race massage or leg compression session at the finish line, check in with the desk to ensure you're on the list. Then head straight for your drop bag of dry, warm clothes and change out of your wet race gear. Even on a warm day you'll be surprised how your body loses heat. Staying warm is critical.
After a marathon you may feel like you want to sit down and never get back up. To avoid cramping muscles don't sit down until you've had a chance to walk and stretch a little. Try to walk for at least 15-20 minutes. Once you get to your hotel or home, take time to stretch and roll out. Then opt for an ice bath for another 15 minutes. Afterwards, try to walk around some more and loosen your legs. Then, take it easy for the rest of the day. Before bed, you can take a warm bath with Epsom salts to help you sleep.
Immediate Post Marathon Nutrition — What To Eat After You Cross the Finish Line
What you fuel and hydrate with after the race will help your muscles mend more quickly and prevent further injury down the road. A simple way to rehydrate is to consume a protein and carbohydrate-based recovery drink or smoothie that is room temperature, drink soup and eat salted watery fruits/veggies (salted tomatoes, salted watermelon).
Immediately following your race, balanced snacking for the first four hours will help jump start your body's repair process. This is when your body is primed to refuel muscle carbohydrates. Within the first 30 to 45 minutes after your race, your muscles can absorb 50% more glycogen. Aim for a 4:1 balance with your intake of carbs to proteins. Keep in mind that your food choices are also restoring fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat and providing nutrients to help repair muscle damage. Soups and smoothies can offer the calories you need while being gentle on your stomach.
You typically will have lost at least 2 to 3 lbs during your run. Drink 20 to 24 fl oz. of water for every pound lost. As you hydrate, make sure you are urinating normally and continue to monitor the color until it's a light lemonade color.
Note: There may be appropriate snacks at the finish line but you may want to pack your own to enjoy as you walk around. Bananas, pita bread, energy bars, and smoothies are good on-the-go options that are often available at marathon finish lines.
Post Marathon Recovery — What To Do in the Days That Follow Your Marathon
It's good to remember that your recovery time is just as important as the time you put in to prepare for your run. In fact, many elite runners will spend 1-4 hours per day on recovery alone. After a marathon, you should consider recovery a month-long process. Your body craves the simple things to help recovery from the stress of the marathon distance — rest, eat right and tend to your sore muscles.
Easy Run or Cross-Train
The last thing you might want to do after a major marathon (besides an ice bath) is go for another run. But a nice, easy jog will help stimulate blood flow and loosen up fascia and tight muscles.
If you're nursing an injury or the idea of putting your running shoes back on is more than you can bear, cross-training is a great way to recover, too. Go for a swim, spin, or take a yoga class— anything that gets the blood moving and gently eases your body back into activity.
A post run massage, when scheduled properly, can help improve blood flow to muscles during recovery after a tough race. It also helps flush out byproducts of hard exercise, reduce muscle soreness, improve range of motion and break up scar tissue.
Allow your body to heal itself for the first day after your race. This lets your body deal with any acute symptoms of post-marathon soreness, muscle damage and inflammation. (Note: If you are going to take advantage of on-site post-race massage, it should be done gently and slowly — save the deep tissue massage for later.) Book your massage in advance for two to five days after your race. It's a great way to celebrate and give your body additional rest.
Roll It Out
While you are training, foam rolling is an integral component as a before and after routine. Foam rolling keeps your tissues mobile and keeps you moving, but it's best to wait at least a couple hours after a marathon before you put full body weight on the roller. Foam rolling will help break up myofascial adhesions and increase blood and oxygen flow for muscle recovery.
Hydration and Nutrition
If in the days following your race, you find yourself feeling overly fatigued, focus on your nutrition. Your body will need a steady intake of nutrients to repair muscle damage, fight off free radical damage and recover your immune system. Listen to your body's natural cravings and continue eating a healthy diet. Fruits, carbohydrates and proteins will help your muscles repair while also giving your immune system a boost of vitamin C and antioxidants that will fend off free radical damage.
It's normal to find that your appetite is diminished later on. Be sure to balance your snack and meals with 10-20 grams of protein. This will help you consume a smaller amount of carbohydrates but still get results your body needs. Eating a protein-rich snack before bed (like cottage cheese, yogurt, pumpkin seeds, hummus) can help accompany the muscle repair your body will go through overnight.
Don't Forget To Have Fun
Schedule something fun to do that you didn't have time for while out building mileage on your long runs. Now is the time to go to a concert, museum, take a short trip — you've earned it!