If you Google “Marathon Training” in 0.14 seconds 43,600,000 results will be returned.
If you Google “Marathon Recovery” in 0.13 seconds 20,800,000 results will be returned.
53% fewer, and that’s not good.
Guess what, in some ways I think that smart recovery from a marathon and having a solid, well thought out plan for how to do so is even more important for a runner than preparing for the 26 mile, 385 yard race in the first place.
Apparently, not everyone agrees.
There is the physical side to recovery, which I’m sure most of you whether you have run a marathon or not can appreciate. But there is also a mental side to recovery that I am not sure gets its due attention.
Today we’ll talk about the physical side of recovery from “the race”, later this week we will tackle the mental side.
Post Race – Immediately Following the Marathon.
This is perhaps the most important “window” in the early recovery period. After Boston on Monday, running for more than three hours in incredible heat, I expended close to 2,800 calories. I worked the same muscle groups repetitively for 3 hours and 44 minutes. At a cadence of 180 strides per minute, that is more than 40,000 strides to cover the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston.
“Legs” are the obvious area that need attention, but the engine needs some refueling as well.
Replacing fluids or “Hydrating” is a key part of the process.
During training runs in similar conditions I know that my sweat rate will cause me to lose close to 5 lbs. on a 20-mile training run in the summer despite taking in liquids frequently.
Add another 6.2 miles on top of that and I am looking at more than 6 lbs. or 96 ounces of fluids. Think 6 standard bottles of water or Gatorade.
With a stomach that is not quite ready for food, as it takes a couple of hours for the blood to start flowing normally to all of the internal tissues and organs, including that digestive track – rehydrating is critical.
Eating salty foods, Pretzels, chips, heck even French fries can be a good idea to help get sodium back into your system. But nothing is more important than to keep moving a bit, getting those fluids replaced and getting out of those wet clothes and into something clean and comfortable.
For those runners who immediately jump in a car, head to an airport, travel home post race – guys – not the smartest move from a recovery standpoint. If you can arrange for an extra day in the city of the race to take it easy, get your sleep and allow the body to recover properly you are going to be back to “normal” a lot faster and a lot safer.
When you are ready to stomach some solid foods, then carbs and protein are your friends. This will help repair those muscles, get that body back on solid footing and give it the type of nutrition it is craving.
Is Pizza calling your name after a marathon? Chocolate Cake? Ice Cream? You deserve it all right?
Well, perhaps you do, but you might want to save those treats and rewards for what I call, “the day after, the day after” and jump start the recovery process with some pasta, bread, fresh vegetables, fruits and water, water, water.
Compression and Ice:
The faster you are able to get yourself into a compression and ice situation post-race, the sooner those small micro-tears in your muscles will begin healing.
Can you get home or to the hotel for an ice bath? Way to go. That 15 minute delay to your “celebration” is going to make a huge difference as you recover.
Not able to get to a hotel/home or shower?
Wait for it ….. I’ve got you covered.
110% Play Harder – Compression+
I reviewed their products previously – click HERE for the full review, but their approach to recovery is made for this exact situation. I was able to slide into my compression+ gear as soon as I picked up my dry bag from the school bus outside the finish area. I was walking, applying compression and icing at our post-race meet up just a couple of blocks from my hotel and the finish line on Boylston Street.
Their products are designed to not only apply compression directly to the large muscle groups, but they have outer pockets in their gear to insert their patented “cool sheets” that apply ice therapy directly to the part of the body that needs it most. Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Knees – absolutely TREMENDOUS.
You can learn more about 110% at:
As I made my way around the post-Boston crowd at Cuffs on Stuart Street a table full of marathoners stopped me and asked, “Do you have ice in those pants?”
Truth be told, I’m wearing my Quad Sleeves right now as I sit and write this piece. They have given me the freedom to essentially recover whenever and wherever I want to or need to from a workout. Friday morning after my first “run since Boston”, I had my quads and hamstrings compressed and iced within 10 minutes of returning to the house.
I honestly don’t know what I did before 110% Compression+.
Yes, their stuff is that good.
Massage Therapy – Rejuvenation:
I am not the biggest fan of getting a massage under normal conditions. Some people love it, could go every week if they could afford to do so – but for me, I save it for recovering from a tough part of the training cycle or after a hard race.
A PR effort in the Half-Marathon, a 75+ mile week with a 23-mile training run and of course post-marathon.
Going to a spa will make you feel relaxed, but I seek out a massage therapist who specializes in sports massage. Typically an athlete themselves, they understand the mechanics of an athlete’s body. Where the most likely areas are broken down after a race, how and where to break up those masses of scar tissue and tight muscles and of course how hard the pressure should be to work out the kinks.
I had a session at Back Bay Massage on Tuesday, approximately 24 hours after the start of the Boston Marathon. Sarah the owner at Back Bay Massage provided my treatment for 90 minutes, focused primarily on my legs and hips.
Each leg got 30-40 minutes of attention and after leaving her office I walked 1.5 miles over to the North End for lunch. Kept the blood flowing to the legs and gradually I began to feel more and more like myself.
I could for the first time in the last 24 hours imagine running another step. That is a breakthrough moment coming off of a marathon. It is the moment when you start feeling like an athlete again.
Which brings us to the next phase of recovery – when do I resume training?
Return to Running – The Reverse Taper:
This is a dangerous part of the recovery process for athletes. For the past 16-20 weeks they have had every day planned out for them. When to run, how far to run, how fast to run – but now after the race? Nothing.
No matter how good or how poor I feel after a marathon I stick to the same plan – which for me is to repeat my previous 5 runs leading up to the marathon in reverse order after resting for 3 complete days.
For Boston that meant:
Monday – Boston Marathon
Tuesday – OFF
Wednesday – OFF
Thursday – OFF/Swim
Friday – 2 miles
Saturday – Bike
Sunday – 4 miles
Monday – Swim
Tuesday – 5 miles
Wednesday – 4 Miles
Thursday – Swim
Friday – 8.3 Miles
Saturday – Bike
Sunday – 10 Miles
When I have completed that 10 mile run two weeks after the marathon, I know that I am back.
I have given my body time to recover, I have gradually returned to training running on back-to-back days only once, but getting back into a “routine”.
My schedule is mapped out for me. I do not just “wing it” and try to do more than I am ready for just because I might “feel pretty decent” or see that my runner friend so and so has already gone out and run 12 miles 5 days after the race.
Good for them.
This is not a competition. The day to compete was during the marathon.
Recovery is your time to take it easy, regain your strength and start focusing on your next goal or set of goals. By not breaking down your body further you are also impacting the mental side of recovery – getting back your “mojo” I call this. When it is time to race again, you are going to be sharp both physically and mentally.
Your buddy who was out logging long miles less than 5 days from the marathon? They are very likely to be sidelined with a mysterious ache or injury in the next month, while you are ramping back up and looking awfully good heading into your next race.
You’ll not only have your mojo back, but you’ll have the legs to go along with it.
Stop back this week and we’ll talk about the mental side of recovery from “the race”.