Firstly, many congratulations if you recently completed a marathon. In this short article we provide a guide as to how you can recover optimally from the exertions of race day. The first key point to note is that recovery is not just a physical process, but that it also combines psychological and emotional components. For ease of clarity, the article is broken down into three distinct parts – the first 3 days post-race, 3-7 days post-race and 1-3 weeks post-race.

 

FIRST THREE DAYS

 

Nutrition and hydration are the first concerns. To be more specific, the most the most immediate considerations are carbohydrates, water and to a lesser extent electrolytes. You will have effectively exhausted your glycogen stores during the marathon and these need to be replenished as quickly as possible. In the aftermath of a marathon any form of carbohydrates will do – eat what you wish because when the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn. Try to drink plenty of water, with MiWadi or cordial as flavoured alternatives. Electrolytes can be replenished through the use of electrolyte tablets, or simply by placing salt on your food for sodium, and consuming bananas or potatoes for potassium. If you drink alcohol after the marathon, then just try to place added emphasis on fluid and electrolyte intake the day after. Protein is also essential to repair tissue damage but not quite as important as carbohydrate intake in the first few hours after the marathon. Try to consume a minimum of 20g of high-quality protein at each meal in the days after the marathon. Fruit and vegetable intake can help reduce free radical damage, while the ingestion of fermented foods can help restore gut balance.

 

Your sleep quality and quantity may be impacted in these first three days but this is OK. Just try to sleep as much as you can. Likewise try to relax as much as you can, so as to activate your parasympathetic nervous system for rest and repair. Breathing exercises can be very useful in this regard. The use of recovery rooms, contrast therapy and Epsom salts baths can all be useful to help promote circulation throughout your body. Any massage therapy during these initial three days should amount to nothing more than a gentle flush out.

 

Going for a walk can also be very useful in these initial three days. The active recovery will help aid circulation. This in turn will lead to the speedier transportation of nutrients to tissues and the quicker removal of waste products from these same tissues. Unless you are an elite or very well-seasoned athlete, there is no need to run during these first three days.

 

3-7 DAYS POST-RACE

 

Nutrition and hydration are still important but they revert back to the level of importance which they possess during normal times. Make quality and sufficient sleep a priority, especially if your sleep is compromised in the initial three days. Try to get sunlight first thing each morning if possible. This is especially important after the clock change and will help regulate your circadian rhythm. Ten minutes can suffice on a sunny morning, but you may need at least 30 minutes on a damp or overcast morning. The 3–7-day period after a marathon is often the best time to get a thorough sports massage after the event.

 

Active recovery is still important and this is the period when many people begin to experience a slump in motivation, as the dopamine high experienced when completing a marathon begins to wear off. Aim to schedule some light activity. It doesn’t need to be running and indeed if you are running, it should be very light and short. Some cross training can be very beneficial – cycling, swimming, elliptical trainer, rowing machine, etc.

 

1-3 WEEKS POST-RACE

 

Now you can start to think about returning to full training but be very wary of rushing back into a full schedule. You need to ease your way back in, while ensuring that you don’t go cold turkey by stopping completely. Use this period as a time to plan your next goals, and to take stock of the learnings from the marathon and the preceding build-up. If you listen to your body, then it will tell you when it is ready to fully resume.

 

If you picked up any injuries, either during the marathon or in preparation for it, then be sure to get these fully assessed before returning to full training. Due to the much-reduced training load, try to use this period to help improve your mobility or stability. Strength levels can detrain following a marathon and should be built back up as you return to full training. Make this a priority over the next 6-8 weeks.

 

Getting a full blood profile can be very useful 2-3 weeks after a marathon, as it can inform you as to whether you are deficient in any micronutrient or biomarker, and can prevent you from running into trouble down the line.

 

Beware that the evenings are getting shorter and the period leading into Christmas can be tricky. Try to set a short-term goal, which will not put your body under excess stress.

 

Regardless of how your marathon went, give yourself a well-earned pat on the back.