Recovering From Your Marathon
How to Recover after a Marathon?
So many times runners put a lot into planning for pre-marathon training and what will happen on the day of the marathon, but then do not have a plan for the hours, days and even weeks after the actual marathon. It is like they have lost focus on running all together. This two-part article will give you a plan for how to approach the post-marathon period – and avoid the post-marathon blues!
So – What to do After Marathon Day?
The answer is simple, put as much into planning what you will do after the marathon as you do for everything before the race. The post-race plan needs to include two goals: first, prepare yourself for a recovery without injury and secondly, have new targets to work towards.
When a successful plan is in place it will keep injuries from happening during the restoration process and allow you to full training, which will get you to your next target. You don’t want to get in a cycle where you have problems that will keep you from getting back to top fitness, or even set you into a tailspin that will keep you from running altogether. Having a recovery plan that is put together wisely will include several building blocks: there will be an understanding of the common post-marathon ailments and your ability to identify, manage and preventing them. It will also be quite helpful to have a template that you create and then implement that will make the plan successful.
It will be just as important to set new targets for running as it is for your recovery plan without injury. Your new target can be anything from an event in the future or even a new fitness level. This target needs to be far enough in the future that it won’t conflict with recovering properly, yet close enough to motivate you through any post-marathon blues you may have. Post-marathon blues may not be an injury people consider, but it can just as harmful. This is why it is important to set a new target as quickly as possible. You can set this goal before the marathon as long as it doesn’t keep you from reaching your current race goals. If you see you are getting distracted easily then don’t worry about setting the new targets until after you finish the marathon.
Risk Factors for Injury
Establishing new targets is easy while it may be difficult to create your post-marathon plan that will help you to avoid any injury. To help you better understand how you can avoid injury after running a marathon you need to know about the potential risk factors.
When it comes down to it, even if you have the prerequisite long runs in before the 26.2mile marathon, it is still a long way to go when running. There are runners who are prepared better for the distances than others may be. For those who just marginally ready to go the distance, actually running 26.2 miles can still pose a risk factor when it comes to the post-race injuries. There is muscle fatigue that results from running farther than your body is accustomed to and it can linger for days, weeks or even months. You need to be careful during the post-race fatigue state because of the possibility of the increase risks that can potentially happen because of overuse injuries that can happen to a runner.
Even a well-prepared runner, who may be running a marathon to enjoy the experience, even while staying within their own capacity, will still stress their system to some point. The lower extremity stresses that runners absorbed while pressing their limits can be quite great. “Bonking” and pressing on during the marathon is just one of the ways you are pressing the limits of your body. The other way is a new PR can equally do the same thing. If you compete with that type of intensity that you may be more predisposed to post-race recovery problems.
Something all marathon runners have to deal with is that while preparing for any marathon there will be injuries that can keep them from actually racing. Then there are those who can make it through training without any major injuries and only with little “dings” that do not really deter them from racing. A racer still racing with dings seems to be the most common of pre-existing injuries since the marathon is the crowning glory for most runners. The financial commitment of nonrefundable money of some sort is a driving force for many to go ahead and run the marathon with any dings. It doesn’t really matter what the motivation for running is, if you are injured, not up to 100%, you are just asking for the dings to lead to a full-scale injury when it comes to the post-race time.
Race-Acquired Problems and Dehydration
Everyone who makes it to the day of the race, whether unscathed or even those with dings, the marathon itself can leave a mark on you. These can be anything from blisters to plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, neuroma symptoms and problems that arise during the marathon that you did not have before. There are also race-acquired problems like hematuria, dehydration and even heat injury. Both musculoskeletal and systemic that happens from the marathon can really affect the recovery process post-race. Blisters may seem trivial, but can really create additional problems for post race training. If a runner tries to run early on after the race while nursing blisters might find they modify their foot strike and loading pattern. This modified running form may put abnormal stress in other areas of the body that are fatigued, which can cause more injuries. You need to make sure that any problems or injuries from a race are healed before you return to your normal training schedule.
Runners do not usually buy new shoes and then break them in during the marathon portion of the training program. Most shoes will dramatically lose the protective characteristics and shock-absorption somewhere between 350 to 500 miles which means the shoes are shot by the time the runner needs to start the post-race recovery part of the training. Since you want to avoid the risk of injury it is important to consider buying a new pair of running shoes after you complete the marathon. The best way to break in the new shows and allow for a gradual adaptation to the new shoes it is recommended to alternate between the old and new pair. By doing this the shoes should be broken in and ready to go about the time that your feet and legs will be ready to go full swing in the training program.
Premature Return to Running
By putting more physical stress on your body that is already fatigued is just asking for more trouble. It will be important to guard against any urges to speed up the progress the common targets: going for your first post-race run; beginning a more intense training program that includes intervals, long runs and tempo runs; or even resuming racing. Later on, you will get more information on how to do this.
A Post-marathon Checklist
Before you start down the road towards your new post-marathon target you need to make sure any problems that may be lingering from the pre-race training program or even ones that came up during the race. It is important to take an inventory of problems that may be harbored the days after the race. To help you understand and identify the problems that could be present and/or arise once you start running you will want to review some of the information below about some of the common post-marathon ailments.
Most of the problems will be taken care of by just resting. For the most part relative rest maybe just want you need. “Relative rest” means replacing running with things like low-impact activities like pool running, cycling and even swimming instead. There are some other recommendations available for the ailments below.
If you don’t know what you have after reviewing the information provided here and other running injury resources you should seek help from a professional. You do not want to jeopardize your running career. Just the same, if you do not improve after doing self-care you should also seek professional help. Somewhere after two weeks, your ailments should improve; if not you again should consider seeing help from a professional.
Upon completion of the marathon, the immune system can become depressed. This happens because of the physiological hit the immune system took because of the stress from the marathon. Things like the flu, colds and even other upper respiratory tract infections can potentially become a problem in the days and weeks to follow. The best thing is to work towards prevention. It is important to take care of yourself after the marathon. You can do this by getting more sleep than you did before the race. You will also want to resume a well-balanced and nutritious diet right after the marathon. It will also be important to focus on re-hydration the first week after the marathon.
You might even consider an herbal preparation like Echinacea, but you should only do this once you have reviewed the information on the product.
If you do get the flu, a cold or an upper respiratory tract infection you need to remember to get plenty of sleep, watching your diet and remain hydrated are important weapons. Also remember that if you have a fever you should not run. If you are taking any medications that are either over-the-counter or a prescription, you should not run either. If you have a persistent fever or cough you should seek professional care. The last suggestion is to consider herbal remedies because of the therapeutic benefits.
You can resume easy running when you have no more fever, aren’t taking any medication and you have no residual fatigue or malaise. You shouldn’t resume hard running until you have no residual of the respiratory tract congestion, which is usually two to three weeks after you have resumed easy running.
There are runners who will experience depression after running a marathon. The cause of depression varies. For some it may be achieving the goal after working hard through training and they don’t know who they are going to top it. Then there are those who may not have achieved the goal. For some it may be they finished the marathon and don’t know what to do next. Another cause may be because of the depletion or neurotransmitters.
It has been found and documented that choline, which is a neurotransmitter precursor, is depleted with any marathon like event. It could be because the marathon efforts end up impacting the neurotransmitters and that has a bearing on depression in a similar way. The post-marathon blues can affect many runners in the days and even the weeks following the marathon.
There is really no scientifically proven approach to get rid of the post-marathon blues, but some recommendations. You should start out making sure you are getting proper sleep, hydration and watch your diet. You might check into supplements, including using choline and other herbal remedies. Make sure to take time to refocus on getting a new target. Running towards a new goal is a good way to blow away the blues.
Delayed Onset Post-exercise Muscle Soreness
It isn’t uncommon to have stiffness and muscle soreness after a marathon. The typical length is between one and three days after the marathon. The soreness is not going to be caused by lactic acid accumulation, but by actual microscopic damage to the muscle. How severe it is will depend on the fitness of the person who ran and their intensity effort. For those who run the any hilly marathon the specificity of fitness is not only the ability to handle the distance of the marathon and the pace of the run, but also how well the runner handled running downhill. The demands of the muscle running downhill can really do something to the quadriceps muscle group.
There aren’t scientifically proven ways to reduce the onset, duration or severity of post exercise soreness of the muscles, but there are anecdotal remedies. In the first 24 hours after the race you can cool the leg muscles intermittently can help out. You can walk in cold water or even roll a frozen plastic water bottle over the muscles. Once you get past the first 24 hours soaking the muscles in warm water or even spending time in the hot tub can help. Getting gentle massages is another way to get help. There are over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or herbal remedies that can assist in this as well.
The last thing is to not start running until the post-exercise muscle soreness has been taken care of.
If the post-marathon blisters you have do not hurt, are not tense and/or extensive, you should just leave them along. If the blisters have broken open you can use ice soaks to help, but you want to make sure you are doing what you can to prevent any infections. The next thing to do is soak your feet twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes in a water and iodine solution. Then dry your feet completely and put on clean socks. The water iodine solution is a 10:1 ration of water to iodine). You should only pop a blister if is painful or tense, otherwise just leave it alone and let it take its course. If you do pop it your elf you will want a clean instrument and then open the blister at the edge and about ¼ of an inch wide. Once you open the blister take care of it like it popped on its own.
If the blister area becomes painful, if there is redness or the redness spreads, then you need to realize it is probably an infection and you should seek professional advice. The infection can happen between two to five days after the blister has popped. Visiting a professional should also be considered if the blister is either tense and/or painful. You will want to not get back to running until the blister area has completely healed and is pain free. If you don’t you will be altering your stride which can add undo stress to other areas of the body which can lead to an injury.
Putting It All Together: A Post-race Plan
Periodization is a well established part of the training that has been implemented throughout the world. In all post-race programs the recovery of the mesocycle is the first phase of the training. Macrocycle. Mesocycle is a smaller unit of organized activity called microcycles. You will find a few suggestions for a model for the recovery phase following the marathon using the microcycle concept.
By being aware of the transition indicators will help you adapt the model to your own post-race recovery program. Transition indicators are the signals that give you and your body the o.k. to go ahead to the next microcycle of the recovery schedule. Some of the transition indicators may include and be as simple as the period of elapse time. One example is the first microcycle is the first 24 hours following the marathon. Some advice includes that there is one day of recovery for every mile that you have raced, this would mean that your recovery period after a marathon is 26 days. Then there are others who say that the transition indicator would be for returning to the race would be more intense training efforts would include speed work and the long runs. We really recommend that you want to avoid any illness and injury, so you will want to adopt the latter interpretation and delay the racing until at least six weeks after the marathon.
Physiological are other transition indicators. You need to consider the muscle soreness and stiffness of your body before moving from transitioning from one of the microcycles to another. You should also consider this if you are feeling any of the other ailments discussed. Post-race body weight can really be useful in indicating your hydration status when you compare it to your prerace body weight.
Monitoring your heart-rate is another transition indicator. You want your resting heart rates, which is obtained just prior to rising, is 10 beats per minute or more above what your pre-race rate can be used to tell if there is still persisting fatigue and any incomplete recovery.
Another way to get the heart rate is to record what your heart rate is right before you get out of bed in the morning and then about 20 seconds after you get up. You will subtract the first heart rate from the standing rate. If the numbers are good, which is not more than about five beats per minute, from day to day or even from pre-race to post-race. If the heart-rates do not look good then you should not transition to the next microcycle and you might consider using the microcycle you were previously on until it gets back to normal.
Microcycle 1: The First 24 Hours
As soon as the race is over you should keep moving even though you will feel like falling to the ground. You need to start drinking cool liquids like carbohydrates and electrolyte replacements as soon as you can, only if you are dealing with hypothermia should you ever consider drinking warm fluids. Also within the first couple of hours after the marathon you should continue to replace fluids along with consuming solid carbohydrates. You should walk one mile or even a little more, do some gentle stretching and avoid things like alcohol and caffeine. You should also stay away from warm baths and hot tubs.
Some options to do during the first couple of hours or even at any point during the first 24 hours include walking or even gently stretching in a cool pool or water and getting a gentle massage.
If you have had proper rehydration after about the first two hours of the marathon, you should be able to urinate within six hours after the marathon. The post-race meal needs to mirror the pre-race meals in heavy carbohydrates to help replace those that were burned in running the marathon.
For the rest of the 24 hours after the marathon you should plan on snacking and continue to rehydrate yourself. You need to avoid any long periods of time that you will be sitting or even traveling. You should also start the supplements or anti-inflammatory medications that you plan on using. You should also start taking care of any injuries or ailments that you have acquired during the marathon along with trying to get some rest and laying down for a little bit.
Microcycle 2: Complete Rest
This particular microcycle will last anywhere from the first day after the marathon until you don’t feel any more sore muscles, injuries or other ailments. There is no absolute time for this microcycle, which can be anywhere from two days to two weeks and maybe even longer, it just depends on any injuries or ailments you may be taking care of.
You need to use this time to restore your body back to normal. This time should including continuing rehydrating yourself along with having a well balanced and nutritious diet. You might want to focus more on protein calories than you normally did during the training. You also need to allow yourself more sleep than you did while you were training.
This is a time to also review how the training and race went. You might want to review what did and did not go well and what you would like to change for the next marathon. Once you have reviewed the training and race you can pick another target to work towards, if you haven’t already. Some activities you could do would be to do some gentle stretching, massaging, walking in a cool pool and even doing a light stroll. You should avoid cross-training, jogging or even running.
You also need to continue to take care of any injuries or ailments that you may have. You should not move to the next microcycle until there is no more muscle soreness, injuries or even ailments. You need to restore your body weight to the pre-race levels. The heart rate monitoring should no longer be giving you any abnormal values.
If there are injuries or ailment you are taking care of and any other transition indicators are normal, you can go to a cross training endeavor that will not conflict with the ability to take care of the injuries and ailments.
Microcycle 3: Return to Easy Running
This particular microcycle can begin within three to four days after the marathon as long as there are no injuries or ailments to take care of and usually last until about four weeks after the race. The pace of any of the runs during this time needs to be below the lactate threshold. You shouldn’t go any further than you would have with a pre-marathon run, except for the long runs.
You should be careful to slowly progress how often and the distance of the runs. You might run every other or third day along with cross training and/or a day off in between the runs. When you finish this transition you will be comfortable handling the frequency and even the distance of the training you were doing the marathon training, just without the speed work or even the long runs.
During this portion of the microcycle you need to monitor yourself to make sure there are no injuries and ailments and that your heart rate is o.k. If any of those problems arise you should back away for a little bit, maybe even going back to the Microcycle 2.
Microcycle 4: Reintroduction of Long Runs and Speedwork
This particular microcycle will get you to your first post marathon race. This should be about two weeks of training.
When you get the baseline frequency of the training and distance when you finish microcycle 3, you just need to gradually introduce faster runs in the form of lactate threshold and long runs. You need to avoid introducing these elements at during the first week of this particular part of the training. The focus of the extra training elements is to get you to your new target. Make sure you are staying vigilant of any signs of injuries, over-training or ailments. If your body tells you anything you should back off.
When you finish microcycle four you will have completed the two goals you set at as your post marathon recovery, which is to stay uninjured and your next race. Get back to it!!