Race Hard, Recover Harder – Marathon recovery tips
Yesterday was the 30th running of the Edinburgh Marathon and the 10th anniversary of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, run under soaring temperatures (for Scotland at least!) and beautiful clear blue skies. Over 38,000 runners stepped up to toe the line and helped make it another roaring success (you can check out some photos from the race on our facebook page here).
Some stellar efforts yesterday means that there’ll be some stiff, sore, tired muscles out there today however, so i thought i’d talk a little bit about recovery, one of the most important and under-estimated elements of training, specifically in terms of recovering from a marathon, to help everyone recover as best they can.
The best recovery is one that balances your musculoskeletal recovery whilst doing its best to maintain your freshly built levels of fitness – after all that training and hard work you don’t just want to see it disappear straight away and start again but it can be tricky knowing how soon to get back to running again. Many research studies have shown over the years that damage to muscles from running a marathon can last up to two weeks. Just because the initial pains and stiffness have died down over the course of the first few days after the marathon doesn’t mean everything’s back to normal. The muscle cells will still have microscopic damage which if not allowed to repair properly will delay proper and full recovery, potentially leading to further problems or leaving you unable to prepare properly for your next race.
So first off, we’ve got to accept that it’s going to take a little time for the muscles to heal, two, maybe three weeks for full recovery in some cases. There are many suggestions out there for the best things to do to help the muscles heal, such as using compression gear, however most of them are a little thin on substantial scientific evidence to back up their claims. What we do know however is that promoting gentle blood flow through the damaged areas brings with it healing nutrients whilst helping to remove waste products and damaged tissue, so some light walking and gentle massage can be helpful in the first few days after you’ve finished your marathon. Once the muscle soreness begins to significantly reduce in the week following the race then you can begin some light jogging, but when we say light, we mean light!
Thankfully the scientific studies mentioned above have all generally shown that with a bit of aerobic stimulus every 2-3 days, general levels of aerobic fitness can be maintained so there’s no need to worry about losing all that marathon fitness, so in a good recovery plan, apart from the couple of days immediately after the race, you should be scheduling in a little running every other day to keep that fitness level topped up. As the weeks post-race tick by you can start to gradually increase the time spent running however it should still remain easy, until about 4 weeks after the race you are returning to almost normal levels of pre-race training.
Of course the best thing about having finished your race and being in a recovery phase is that you don’t have to go out and flog yourself on the roads daily! Take the time to get the life/work/training balance back in check, meet friends for dinner & drinks, polish your new finishers medal, recharge mentally and if you’ve got more races to come, use your results to start looking at what you need to do to improve on your next challenge. If you do it right, you’ll come out of your recovery fresh, fully healed, focussed and ready to go again. Here’s our suggestion for a well balanced marathon recovery.
Day 1 – No running. Feel smug and enjoy the feeling of completing your marathon.
The most important thing today is to eat well and stay hydrated to aid your recovery. Include upto 20 mins of gentle walking.
Day 2 – No running
As per Day 1, eat and drink well, include upto 20 mins gentle walking.
Day 3 – Very easy run for 20mins
This is best done on soft, flat terrain to ease you back in, take the first 5 mins extremely easy to allow your legs to loosen off, they may well feel like someone else’s legs!
Day 4 – No running
This would be a good day for a light massage and to start getting back to some regular stretching.
Day 5 – Very easy run for 20mins
You may well find that the muscle soreness and stiffness is beginning to ease off by now but avoid the temptation to rush back to running too hard too quickly.
Day 6 – No running
Day 7 – Very easy run for 20 – 30 mins
It may not feel like too much of a run quite yet but don’t neglect the post-run stretching you would normally do. If soreness allows, do a bit of very light self-massage on your legs too.
Day 8 – Very easy run for 20 mins
A week after your race and your first two back to back running days can let you know how your recovery is coming along. Keep it light and easy though.
Day 9 – No running
Day 10 – Easy run for 25 – 30 mins
Day 11 – Easy run 30 – 40 mins
Hopefully your body is beginning to feel normal again and running is getting back to feeling normal too.
Day 12 – No running
Day 13 – Easy run 30 – 40 mins
Day 14 – Easy run 40 – 45 mins
By now you should be back to feeling like you can run again and that you’re ready to begin training. Avoid the temptation to dive straight back in though and use the next two weeks to gradually build the volume again before starting on hard interval sessions or tempo runs.