Seven tips for a successful marathon recovery

April 18 2016

If you’re running the London Marathon this year, then we wish you the best of luck. If you’re reading this having just completed the marathon, then a huge “congratulations!” is in order.  Whichever it is, to help you back to feeling normal (and ready to celebrate!) after finishing the race, be sure to follow our advice on post-marathon recovery.

  1. Keep moving

Dropping to the floor and sleeping forever may be your ideal end to running the marathon, but your body, having just run 26.2 miles, will be so deep in 'marathon mode' that it won't be able to switch off so easily. You will need to take it through a transition phase, allowing your heart rate to drop gradually and your blood circulation to reduce to its normal resting pace, which will then flush out any lactic acid from the muscles. So, however much you may want to stop immediately after crossing the finish line, don't. Do the opposite, walk to the Tube or train station if you’re travelling home, or wander slowly through Green Park or St James’s Park for 15 minutes before finally resting.

  1. Refuel the right way

Though you may not feel hungry when you finish, your body will soon need to replace the nutrients lost during the run. Within the first 15–30 minutes of finishing, slowly eat a carby snack like a banana or flapjack; this type of energy is quickly and easily absorbed by the body. Allow a little longer before you tuck into your first proper meal, however, as blood from the muscles used for running (legs, heart, lungs etc.) needs time to return to the stomach. When you do eat, stock up on lots of slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as brown rice and wholemeal pasta, as well as proteins like lean meat or fish. That said, if you want to devour your favourite pizza or a burger, go for it. You’ve earned it!

  1. Rehydrate the right way too

Post-marathon, you'll need to gradually replace all of the fluid lost via sweat. When you first finish, have a sports drink (if you're not sick of them by this point) to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes. After that, good old water will do the job. As for having a celebratory drink, consuming alcohol soon after finishing the race isn't advised. Due to dehydration, your body will absorb the alcohol quicker than usual and as alcohol is a diuretic (i.e. causes you to go to pass urine), a boozy beverage will dehydrate you even more in the long run.

  1. Keep the pressure off your legs

Once you’ve walked a little and lowered your heart rate, it’s time to take the pressure off your legs and feet. Lay with your legs upright against a wall, tree or fence (known as the Viparita Karani pose in yoga) to ease your weary limbs. Staying in this position for ten minutes to one hour after running the marathon will reduce the build up of fluid in your legs and help reduce any swelling. Continuing to do this for around 30 minutes every day in the week after the event will aid recovery too.

  1. Get plenty of sleep

Feeling seriously sleepy post-marathon is to be expected. Your body's just survived a huge feat of endurance and it's only natural to feel both physically and mentally exhausted. Instead of trying to carry on as normal in the days and weeks after the marathon, take this time to relax and revel in your achievement. Take at least two days off work and allow yourself regular naps (though not long enough to disrupt your normal sleep pattern). The body’s muscles restore and replenish themselves when you sleep, so succumbing to a good snooze – once your heart rate and blood pressure have returned to normal – will be hugely beneficial for your recovery.

  1. Ice your muscles

It might seem like a horrible way to celebrate your success, but sitting in a bath full of cold water, showering yourself with ice or dipping into a freezing plunge pool – if you have access to one – will massively aid your aching body. Sure, it won’t be pleasant, but the cold will reduce inflammation and swelling, help flush out any lactic acid in your muscles, and numb any pain.

  1. Be aware of the post-Marathon blues

Something lots of people don’t factor into their recovery is the Post-Marathon Blues. Having spent the best part of a year focussing on this one day, when it’s over, it’s easy to feel a little empty or lost. Sports psychologist Dearbhla McCullough, who’s previously worked with the British Sail Plane Association and The Lawn Tennis Association, says: “Training for a marathon consumes your life for several months. Suddenly it’s over and there’s this gaping hole that needs to be filled. Try a new sport or set another goal for a few months’ time.” Don’t go setting yourself a new goal too soon, however. Be sure to let your body recover properly before starting new training.