Marathons have become increasingly popular these days. They’re also being created with a variety of themes, like a zombie run or a blacklight run. Of course, true marathon runners will agree there’s nothing quite like a traditional event; one that you must train for in advance, to ensure you’re at your prime when the time comes.
There’s one thing about marathons – whether it’s a half marathon or 5K – that many runners and fitness enthusiasts seem to forget: Proper recovery after the marathon is just as important as training for the event beforehand.
If you don’t allow your body enough time to recover appropriately, you could end up with an injury. We don’t need to tell you what that could mean for staying healthy.
The most important thing is that you don’t jump back into another race. Not only could this lead to injury, it could result in a performance decline or overtraining symptoms. That’s why it’s so crucial that you adopt a healthy recovery plan after your marathons, and this is true whether it’s your first or 40th run.
This plan is designed to be followed for up to three weeks after the completion of any marathon. It will allow your body to recover faster than normal, but more importantly it will help you recover right.
Keep in mind, the plan doesn’t explore pre-race training and nutrition. That’s something you’ll need to tackle on your own.
Immediately after the race, follow these guidelines to ensure a healthy recovery for your body:
- Get your body warm; wrap in a thin blanket or throw on some more concealing clothes
- Eat something. Good candidates include energy bars, sports drinks, fruit, bananas, trail mix and more
- As soon as possible, take an ice bath by submerging your body in cold water for at least 15 minutes. The water should be anywhere from 55 to 65 degrees
- After your bath, go for a short walk to loosen your muscles, legs and body
- Take a nap or relax with minimal movement
Days 1 to 3
Try to avoid any running or cross training during this time. Your body is still reeling from the marathon and so you’ll need time to heal.
Follow these steps for up to three days after the marathon:
- Soak in a hot tub for at least 10 minutes
- Stretch your body well, like you’re preparing for a workout or another run
- Ensure you’re consuming a diet with lots of carbohydrates, protein and fruits. The protein and carbs are for any muscle damage you might have suffered, while the fruit will offer vitamins and antioxidants to boost your immune system and fight off any damage incurred during the marathon
- If you feel up to it, order a light massage. Stay away from deep tissue massages at this point; they may harm you more
Days 4 to 7
This is where the actual training comes back into play. Ease back into running, and spend one of these days running about two to four miles. If you feel up to it, it’s also OK to do some cross-training, but you don’t want to spend any longer than 40 minutes at a time on it. The idea is to get the blood flowing throughout your body – more specifically your legs – so you heal faster. We’re not concerned with building muscle.
In addition, follow these tips to boost recovery:
- Maintain a healthy diet. This is extremely important during the recovery process
- Take an Epsom salt bath in the evenings before bed. Add 3 cups of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda, then soak in the bath for at least 10 minutes
- After the bath, stretch out your body and legs before going to sleep.
- Optional: If you’re sore, it’s OK to get a deep tissue massage now. Your muscles should have recovered enough to handle the added stress
- Optional: Contrast bathe your lower body to help your legs recover faster
Days 7 to 14
For training during this period, spend three to four days running four to six miles. Again, the focus is on easy training, as you’re still recovering. If you want to do some cross-training, stick with easy to medium workout sessions lasting no more than 45 minutes.
If you’re sore or feel any discomfort, follow the bathing steps from the previous period.
Day 14 to 21
We’re almost done! Once you hit the 21-day mark, you should be fully recovered and you can ease back into your regular training regimen. In the meantime, follow these strategies to continue boosting your recovery.
As you ease into your regular training, focus on longer running sessions – four to eight miles – with a regular pace. If you haven’t been doing any cross-training, now is the time to get it in for sure. Spread out varying sessions – easy, medium and hard – throughout the course of this recovery period and spend about 40 to 50 minutes each time.
Continue to stay focused on your recovery throughout this entire period. Don’t worry about losing your endurance, ruining fitness or falling out of shape. None of that will matter in the long run if you’re injured. On average, it takes about two to three weeks of proper training to get back into full shape – plenty of time to prepare for any future marathons.
It’s also a good idea to wait at least six weeks before scheduling your next marathon. To be absolutely safe, wait at least eight weeks. You may feel the need to jump right in and get going on another marathon, but your performance will suffer and the chances of an injury will increase. Proper recovery after the race is just as important as the training leading up to it.