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How to recover from a marathon like a pro
April 28th 2019 / 0 comment
So you've completed all 26.2 miles, and now what? Do you foam roll? Do you cover your body in epsom salts? Do you cry into a tub of Ben and Jerry's? Four-time marathon runner Jessica Morgan and Nike trainer Luke Worthington give their top tips on how to recover after those gruelling miles
Congratulations, you have completed your first, third or fifth marathon. Regardless of whether you are a virgin or veteran, running 26.2 miles is a feat that should be celebrated. You've spent months gearing up for the big day, spent sleepless nights fretting about what shoes to wear, gels to bring and music to run to. But what happens when the dance is over?
Recovery is one of the most important aspects of running yet it isn't the topic that is shouted about. And let's be honest, once you've finished your marathon, the only thing you're thinking about is chugging an ice cold beer and laying down for eternity. But if you want to start running again - or lower your risk of injury - the days following the marathon are crucial as it can have an impact on your body weeks and even months later. So how do you recover from a marathon? It comprises of the three Rs: rest, refuel, run.
See my tips below on how to remain in shape after a marathon, with expert advice from Nike trainer Luke Worthington.
Get those legs moving
My first marathon was tough. I ran the Berlin Marathon in September 2015 after spending a year running socially with friends around the streets of London. To say I was prepared for a marathon is half true. I knew I could run the distance at the time - my friends and I had been running 20+ miles every Sunday - so when it came down to it, 26.2 miles was a walk in the park. I had the best time of my life running around Berlin to the cheering of the crowds, high-fiving children along the route and eating every jelly bean in sight. It was the best way to see the city. However, after the race, I couldn't walk. My legs had officially given up and were fully prepared to retire from the sport altogether from the sheer trauma of it all. But I did what non-runners would wince at: I ran the next day.
DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness - is likely to kick in within hours of running a marathon and can be at its most painful between 24 and 72 hours. This period is crucial for recovery. While I would have much-preferred being sat on the sofa watching Netflix and eating a tub of ice cream, my friends forced me into sightseeing the next day to keep the muscles in my legs working. If you were to sit for long periods of time after any run, you run the risk of injury as your muscles would seize up. It's like forgetting to oil your bike - if you don't oil it, it creaks. It's also important to foam roll your legs when you get home from the marathon and the days following after.
What the expert says: "If you don't want to experience that dreaded morning after stiffness, you need to get your legs moving again."
Be sure to refuel
The best bit. You probably feasted on carbohydrates the night before your marathon and used all that fuel to carry you for the whole 26.2 miles, and now it's time to replenish your body. After my marathons, I ate pasta, eggs, steak, and fish to rebuild my muscles; protein is a key ingredient for muscle repair. I also drank gallons of water with added electrolytes to replace the salts I lost during the race. I always carry High 5 Electrolytes, £11.99 for 20, before and after any race and even use them during the day at work to keep my hydration levels up. After plenty of rest, I was ready to lace up and hit the road.
To aid quicker muscle recovery, look to foods high in protein such as chicken, steak, avocado, and salmon. If you are vegetarian then eggs are a great source of protein, as are blueberries and edamame beans for vegans.
What the expert says: “Replenishing carbohydrates is imperative, but not as important as replacing the lost electrolytes (salts) and fluids. You can buy electrolyte effervescent tablets in Boots and it should be one of the first things you consume after finishing a marathon. Sorry, but a post-marathon beer and prosecco are not advised. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided as you should be giving your body a rest - it doesn’t need anything else to contend with!”
Stretch it out
I later went on to run the Greater Manchester Marathon in April the following year, as well as the Boston Marathon eight days later. While running two marathons in a week is not advised, having a strict routine during this time was imperative for my preparations and recovery. Instead of running, I took up low-impact sports; I booked myself on to a few hot yoga classes at Hotpod Yoga the week before I flew out to Boston for the big day, which really helped to stretch my muscles that had tightened, and it also encouraged me to drink twice the amount of water I would usually drink to rehydrate. I also added swimming to my training as it keeps the heart rate up with minimal impact on the muscles.
FYI - Hotpod Yoga is offering marathon runners a free hot yoga class between 28 April and 4 May so I would snap those up to help you recover quickly.
What the expert says: “There is no correlation between stretching and muscle soreness so if you like stretching then go ahead, although the best thing to do is to keep exercising and continue with your routine.”
Go hot and cold
Taking an ice bath is often the advice given to runners who have completed their marathon, but if you're thinking that's the last thing you want to dip your toes into, then you'll be pleased to know there is an alternative.
While ice baths have been proven to be beneficial for their ability to constrict blood vessels and decrease metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown, heat therapy can also aid in muscle relaxation, allowing fluids to flow more freely around the body. If you're not quite ready to take an ice bath, try alternating the temperature of the water in the shower and target sore muscles.
Personally, I will always favour a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium) which reduces pain, swelling, inflammation and helps you get a good night's sleep. I swear by Westlab's Natural Epsom Salt, £10.04 for 5kg and Radox Bath Therapy Muscle Soak Herbal Bath Salts, £1.
What the expert says: “You should have a cold shower, or an ice bath if you can tolerate it as it reduces inflammation quickly and efficiently. Although alternating between hot and cold in the shower can help settle the muscles too.”
Catch some ZZZz
Running or any form of exercise depletes the body of energy and breaks down muscle tissue, which is why it is imperative for you to have an adequate amount of rest following a marathon. Sleep replenishes the tired body, preparing it for the next expenditure of energy. Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease the production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for use during physical activity too.
What the expert says: “Don’t change your routine by having a nap straight after the marathon as it’ll wreak havoc with your body clock. Stick to your normal routine after the marathon to restore homeostasis (normality) as soon as possible. If the adrenaline is still pumping then magnesium is very effective for calming the nervous system.”