There’s only one way to kick this off and that’s with a huuuge congratulations ‘cos you’re a marathoner. After months of training, following your running plan, focussing on that one goal, waking up in the middle of the night covered in hot sweat, over-analysing every niggle you felt and panicking over what to wear, you’ve gone and smashed it. Your race is done, that bucket list item has been ticked and your medal is hanging around your neck with a gleam of pride.
The question is: what next?
And it’s more common than you might think. You see, no matter how much thought you gave that marathon, most runners see the finish line as the ultimate end with zero thought given to the recovery process. But pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles is no easy feat. It’s hard work, strenuous, exhausting and painful, sometimes to the point it feels like you got hit by a bus.
That’s why it’s so important to treat your post-marathon recovery in the same way you approached your training: as a crucial part of the journey, so that you can be back up and running in the quickest time possible without risking injury. Here’s how to do it...
1: Give Up Running For A Bit
For the 5 to 6 days following your marathon, try to resist the urge to lace up your running shoes and run your favourite route. That said, an active recovery is much better than sitting on the sofa and trying to complete Netflix, so try a gentle swim a couple of days afterwards followed by a sports massage. Then, once those 5 or 6 days have passed, try a ‘test’ run of 20-30 minutes, where you focus on your body and mind, observing any enduring aches or pains as you slowly get back into running again.
2: Eat Well
Eating – and eating well – is so important to restore your fuel levels, especially after a marathon, which are so intensely rigorous you’ll find your body has burned through its carbohydrates reserves. That’s why it’s essential to eat high-glycemic carbs and protein-rich foods, as well as grub that is packed-full of electrolytes; foods that can restore muscle, strengthen your bones and reduce inflammation – with some whey protein added into the mix as it has been proven to assist recovery.
3: Deep Sleep Time
When it comes to your recovery, not a lot is more important than sleep. Rest is essential. However, it can take a couple of days to get back into the routine of getting a regular 8 hours a night. That’s because almost every marathoner finds themselves riding an adrenaline high where your muscles are twitching, your epinephrine levels are piquing and your body just won’t relax into sleep. If that’s the case, don’t panic about it and just rest instead. Put your phone out of reach, take a bath, put on some relaxing music, sip on a Magnolia tea and give yourself the best chance of getting back into a rhythm of sleeping like a log.
4: Cross Training is a Must
While we suggest you abstain from any kind of run for at least five days after you crossed the finish line, we do recommend you keep putting back into your cardiovascular load without straining your recovery. Cue cross training. Head to the swimming pool for a few easy lengths to master those DOMS, get on the cross-trainer for some gentle exercise or clip into your bike for a steady cycle ride, all of which has been proven to enhance performance when compared to passive recovery.
5: Enjoy A Slow And Steady Return
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all roadmap to a post-marathon recovery. Instead, it’s about knowing how hard you ran your race, how you feel, tuning into your body and listening to the feedback you get for as long as it takes. One thing is for sure: jumping straight back into your normal running routine is a surefire way to risk an injury. So make sure you build back up slowly and rest when you have to as you slowly reintroduce both intensity and distance into your running.
6: Steer Clear of Maximum Intensity
You may feel great a couple of weeks after your marathon and have the urge to push it again in a bit to chase down the next PB, but we recommend you avoid putting the pedal to the metal until you are 100% back to full fitness. That means avoiding maximum intensity on your runs, in the gym, on your bike or any other physical activity for one major reason: the risks of injury are extremely high during a post-marathon recovery.
7: Make Mobility Your Focus
Rest days are super-important for recovery, but even spending a few minutes a day performing some low-intensity mobility work will help speed up your recovery in a safe way. Ankles, hips, hamstrings and adductors are all areas where mobility workouts are essential as they help restore and even improve your flexibility and range of motion by relieving the tension built up in your muscles and joints. This can be done with a living room session in your socks doing figure-four and downward dog, or you can join our free weekly stretch classes.
8: Pick A New Goal
A few days after finishing a marathon, there’s always a lull. You lose motivation and a sense of purpose with your running, especially as you recover. That’s where refocusing your attention to a new goal swoops in. Whether it’s another race, a fresh challenge, a further distance, a bucket list event or a PB, we all run better when we have something to aim for – and that renewed purpose is great for recovery too. It helps you avoid being passive as you actively make the right moves to recover faster and properly.
9: Have A Plan in Place
Whether you’re chasing a specific goal, training for a race or simply trying to maintain your overall fitness, following a running plan is one of the most effective ways to get your recovery right as you work toward the next challenge. From keeping you accountable with structured workouts to committing you psychologically to a consistent schedule, helping you stay injury-free to making your runs that much more hassle-free and convenient, having a personalised running plan and an expert team of coaches to guide you on your recovery is a surefire way to put yourself on the best path possible.
Thanks for reading our blog on post-marathon recovery. For more running insights, inspirations, stories and techniques, follow us on Instagram and Facebook -- or simply check out our personalised running plans at RunBuddy.