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Fitness and Performance

How to recover from a marathon: post-race tips from a physio 

Sep 30 2021

So you’re running a marathon? Whether it’s your first major running race or you’re a long-distance pro, running 26.2 miles is an impressive distance for your body to cover. And when all the race day is done and the hard work is over, there is still one really important step to take… marathon recovery. 

We spoke to Bodyset RunFit specialist, Rebeccca Nygren about post-marathon recovery. To date, she has covered 3 marathons, an ultramarathon, and a whole training book full of races, from local park runs to county trail runs and half marathons. It turns out that race recovery isn’t as easy as lying in bed or soaking in a hot bath…

Here’s Rebecca’s top tips on how to recover from a marathon, so you can avoid limping back into work and cringing at the sight of a staircase. 

Keep walking 

You may be tempted to sit down at the marathon finish line (who can blame you after 26.2 miles!) but the best thing you can do is keep walking. Walking helps your heart rate drop at a healthy rate, flushing lactic acid from your muscles. Try to walk at least 10 – 15 minutes before you finally succumb to plonking yourself down in a chair, or dropping to your knees.  

 The main thing to do post-race is listen to your body. You don’t have to run, but you do need to keeping moving!”  Rebecca.

Refuel your body  

You may not feel like eating straight after a marathon but food and drink are crucial to muscle recovery. Be sure to replace the muscle glycogen stores you have used up during your run by consuming complex carbohydrates. It’s important to stock up on protein too. Running triggers the breakdown and resynthesis of the muscle protein so it’s beneficial to supply your body with enough amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to rebuild the proteins and make new muscle.  

Water supports all the metabolic functions and nutrient transfers in your body so continue to sip fluids throughout your day, even if you don’t feel thirsty anymore. You may even want to include electrolytes in your drink to rehydrate more effectively. 

“You can leave your big foodie reward until later in the day but it’s important eat a small snack of a few hundred calories within 30 – 60 minutes of finishing the race.” Rebecca

Get up and get moving  

The first few days won’t exactly be comfortable. In fact, you may discover muscles and joints in the body you hadn’t realised existed. As tempting as it is, try not to stay in bed too long the morning after your marathon. The sooner you get up and move, the sooner you will recover. Have a warm bath or shower and get out for walk.  

It’s also important to focus on stretching out the areas that commonly played up during your training. Common areas are hip flexors, lower and mid back, calves and ankles. The following exercises are a useful starting point: pigeon pose, 90/90 hip stretch, kneeling thoracic rotations and runner’s lunge.  

Start running again  

A few days after your marathon you should start to feel better. If you’re not injured then get out for a light and slow-paced 15 – 30 minute run. Your joints and tendons are used to months of loading so if you suddenly stop, they can often strain, seize up or start to break down – leading to tendon and joint injuries. If you don’t want to run (we can understand that!) then you can cross-train with cycling, swimming, or other activities that formed part of your marathon cross-training programme.  

Everybody’s recovery rate is different, However, on average most people feel fully recovered within 2 weeks of a marathon. If you experience aches, pains or niggles that won’t go away after that period then please do book in for a quick 15-minute Health Check. Our expert physiotherapists are on hand to assess any suspect injuries and advise on a bespoke recovery plan to get you up and running again.  

 “About 1.5 weeks after my first ultramarathon, I had some mild patellar pain. This was on the side where my quad muscle took slightly longer to recover. Most likely, this was caused by going from ‘boom to bust’. My body was used to all the impact from training and suddenly it had been largely reduced. I then did some targeted rehab and eased into loading. I recovered well after that!” Rebecca.

Hopefully you’ll be buzzing after your marathon and booking up your next big race. If you’re not injured, be sure to recover well and ease back into training at a pace your body can handle: 

Week 1: Rest, walk and cross-train.  

Week 2: Run short, light and easy.  

Week 3: Run longer and a little bit faster.  

Week 4: Return to regular distance, frequency and intensity. 

Treat yourself to a massage  

A Sports massage can help to relieve muscle tension and reduce the discomfort caused by post-marathon muscle soreness. It can also improve circulation and nutrition to damaged tissue. It’s a powerful treatment for those looking to maintain muscle elasticity and speed up recovery. Plus, it feels pretty good afterwards! Foam rolling can also help your muscles recover after a marathon. Try  foam rolling a few times a week for 5 minutes at a time but be sure to avoid rolling directly onto your joints as it is designed specifically for muscle.  

If you’re injured or experiencing aches and pains that won’t go away after your marathon race day then book in for a 15-minute Health Check. Our expert physiotherapists are here to help you get back up and running and doing what you love most!  

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