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How to Recuperate after a Marathon

Updated on May 28, 2013

A guide to recovering from a marathon

Marathon recovery starts the moment you step over that finishing line.  Runner featured from the 2012 Carver Wolverhampton Marathon
Marathon recovery starts the moment you step over that finishing line. Runner featured from the 2012 Carver Wolverhampton Marathon | Source

The best ways to recover after a marathon

Running a marathon is extremely hard on the body and mind. Therefore it's important to pay as much attention to your marathon recuperation as you showed while you were putting all those hours of training for the big event.

If you're reading this after finishing your first marathon give yourself a big congratulatory pat on the back from all here at hubpages as you've achieved something that many people will never get close to in their life time. Whether it's your first or twenty-fifth marathon those legs are going to feel sore and you're going to need to pay attention to your recovery.

What to do after a finishing a marathon?

Your marathon recovery begins at the moment you cross that finish line. There's usually a place by the finish at any marathon event which will be serving up drinks and snacks- make sure you head to it and make the most of it as your post marathon recovery strategy needs to involve taking in lots of fluids (whether isotonic or simply water) and consuming carbohydrate rich snacks as your glycogen levels are severley diminished after running a marathon.

Try to resist the urge to drop to the floor or stop immediately. You should aim to have a good cool down after your marathon. Keep moving to keep that blood circulating and prevent it pooling in the legs which can lead to additional muscle swelling and pooling of waste products in the muscles.

A 10 minute walk can be an ideal post marathon recovery to help lower your heart rate back down to normal levels and to allow your muscles to clear some of the waste products to speed up your marathon recovery.

What to do at the marathon finishing line?

  1. If you feel unwell, nauseous, or extremely light headed go straight to one of the medical team who will be at the finishing line
  2. Hydrate- take on plenty of fluids, whether water or isotonic drinks as you could be dehydrated after finishing a marathon
  3. Refuel- take in carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores
  4. Keep moving around. Aim for a 10 minute walking recovery to help clear the waste products from your body and lower your heart rate steadily

Marathon recovery techniques- the first few hours post marathon

What you do in the few hours after finishing your marathon you'll likely to be in a state of jubilation with your achievement as you did something fantastic.

Steer clear from long hot baths.

A hot bath after your marathon is not a good recovery idea.
A hot bath after your marathon is not a good recovery idea. | Source

What's the biggest post-marathon recover mistake- having a bath!

We've also seen soccer and football players celebrating in the bath after a successful game however post exercise recovery science shows that having a hot bath after exercise is detrimental to your recovery.

Why you shouldn't have a hot bath after a marathon?

The heat from the water in a hot bath increases vasodilation within your leg muscles, opening up your capilary networks for blood to pass into them. This can cause pooling of the blood within your leg muscles and subsequent swelling of the muscles resulting in increased muscle soreness. For you muscles to start recovering from your marathon efforts your body will first have to clear the swelling and pooled waste products before it can commence the repair of your muscle damage from the marathon.

This can lead to increased Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). if you have a bath within the first 24 hours after a marathon. However after that point you can consider Hot/Cold recovery techniques such as those detailed below.

Hot and Cold Therapy to increase post workout recovery

A tried and tested technique which can help your recovery from marathon or Ironman Triathlon event are contrast hot and cold therapy showers and baths.

Very hot water (104-113 Fahrenheit / 40-45 degrees Celsius) can decrease muscle tension and reduce neuralgia. Whereas warm water (95-99 Fahrenheit/ 35-38 degrees Celsius) can have a general relaxing effect on the muscles

Use the shower for hot/ cold theraphy

Use the shower for effective hot/ cold recovery sessions to help you recuperate from a marathon or other hard training sessions
Use the shower for effective hot/ cold recovery sessions to help you recuperate from a marathon or other hard training sessions | Source

Instructions for havng a hot/ cold shower for marathon recovery and intense running sessions

  1. Alternate between 30 seconds of cool water (but not too cold) and two minutes of hot water for speed work and intense workout sessions for 15 minutes maximum
  2. After a marathon alternate between 30 seconds of cold (as cold as you can bare) and two minutes of warm water for 15 minutes maximum.
  3. Have a short regular shower after step 1 or 2 above.

Isotonic tablets to help your marathon recovery

Alacer Corp. ElectroMIX Emergen-C Lemon-Lime - Drink Mix: 30 PKTS (4.2 oz)
Alacer Corp. ElectroMIX Emergen-C Lemon-Lime - Drink Mix: 30 PKTS (4.2 oz)

Electrolyte formula's help rehydration and replacement of lost nutrients to aid apres marathon recovery.


Consider electrolyte replacement to aid apres marathon hydration

The body can often be dehydrated post marathon and even after you've drank lots at the finish line- you still need to be aware that post marathon rehydration does not occur instantly. Post marathon rehydration is a steady process. Consider using some isotonic tablets or electrolyte replacement sports drink as this is formulated for effective hydration and to replace the nutrients lost from the blood and working muscles while running a marathon to aid recuperation.

Consider a sports massage to help post marathon recuperation

A lot of marathons and sports events now have attached sports massage services available post event to aid athlete recovery. They're often very very tempting as they may be offered free by a local college as experience for their students or by accredited sports massage professions at a relatively small fee.

If you take up an offer of a sports massage directly after your marathon to help you recover always make sure you've had a good warm-down prior to the massage as they are not a substitute to your usual post exercise recovery regime. An apres marathon recovery massage should be viewed as an additional recovery tool.

Ask the masseur for a very gentle massage. They will use light flushing strokes to help relieve muscle tension, reduce muscle spasms, improve the effectiveness of scar tissue formation and reduce swelling in your running leg muscles. This will help with your recovery but you MUST ensure that the flushing movements are gentle as any deep tissue work can cause pain and a longer recovery.

If you're considering a deeper, more thorough sports massage- Wait at least 3 days post-marathon event and visit an accredited sports massage therapist. A simple google search for your area should bring up a selection of local specialists or alternately for the USA you could visit the American Massage Therapy Association website or if you're in the UK the Sports Massage Association can hook you up with a local practicioner.

It's all smiles at the finish of your marathon

Keep smiling during that marathon.  Photo from the 2012 Wolverhampton Marathon
Keep smiling during that marathon. Photo from the 2012 Wolverhampton Marathon | Source

The six steps to a great post marathon recuperation

1. Keep moving for at least 10 minutes post marathon

2. Start refueling your carbohydrates straight from when you finish to replenish depleted glycogen stores

3. Have a cold bath within the few hours post race to limit the inflammation and then after 24 hours post race consider hot / cold therapy showers to hasten marathon recovery

4. Consider a massage within the days proceding your marathon. If you have one on the day make sure it's a massage brushing massage to work away the waste products

5. Keep taking in lots of fluids. Water and electrolyte drinks help to rehydrate post marathon. Keep a bottle by your desk at work and even in your car.

6. Keep active for the first week after your marathon to speed up recovery. Consider activities which put minimal pressure on your joints such as cycling, swimming or simply gentle walking will help keep the muscles mobile to improve recovery.


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