Repair, rebuild, recover: How to unwind after your marathon

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Congratulations! You just ran a marathon. After hard and continuous training for months you’ve accomplished that goal and passed the finish line after a whopping 42kms: an achievement many will only dream of reaching.

Now, it’s time for the recovery phase. Just as important as training for the marathon, taking the time to rest and repair once you’ve crossed the finish line, is crucial. And since your entire body – not just your legs – will be in shock and suffering from muscle damage, it takes time and a lot of patience. Do your body a favour and follow our tips to make your recovery period as quick and painless as possible.

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Immediately after the race

The first few hours after the marathon could make or break your body for the rest of the week. As soon you cross the finish line and slip that medal around your neck, recovery begins.

  • Keep moving: Do not stop dead as soon as you cross the finish line. Your body will still be in running mode, and needs you to keep walking until you’ve calmed down. 10 minutes should be enough to allow your body to return to its normal state.
  • Stay warm: Throw a light blanket over yourself, or slip on some dry clothes to keep you warm. It might seem unlikely but you will get cold rapidly.
  • Hydrate and energize: Pack a post-marathon lunch box with bananas, other fruit or energy bars for a quick source of energy and rehydrate with plenty of water or electrolytes.

Later that day

Scrap all plans and relax for the rest of the day:

  • Take an ice cold bath: Lying in an ice cold bath for 10-20 minutes after your run will already reduce inflammation and feels great on your tired, aching legs.
  • Elevate your legs: gGet comfortable on the couch with something under your legs to prop them up for around 15 minutes. Again this will reduce inflammation.
  • Nap: A 90 minute nap after the race is a great way to allow your body to repair itself.
  • Loosen up: A light massage or foam rolling, a couple of hours after the marathon also does wonders for muscle pain.
  • Forget the diet: A couple of hours after the race – once you’ve had your post-workout snack and snooze – have a big, balanced meal. When we say “forget the diet” we don’t mean go crazy with pizza, ice cream and fries. What we mean is stay healthy, just don’t pay attention to calories. Stick to protein, complex carbs and vegetables. And lot’s of them. Remember, your body has just used every last piece of energy it had to get you over the finish line. It’s in desperate need of a refill.

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The first few days after the marathon

Your recovery will take longer than 24 hours. Take a few more days of deep recovery before you go back to training.

  • Active recovery: We recommend not to run in the three to four days immediately after the marathon. Instead, go for short walks, do some stretching or try yoga to relax your fatigued muscles. Avoid cross-training or strength training in this period.
  • Carry water wherever you go: You’ll be thirstier than usual so always have a bottle of water next to your bed and on your desk.
  • No late nights: Sleep is a fundamental factor of recovery, and trust us, your body’s going to need it. So cancel those nights out and focus on at least 7 hours of good, quality sleep a night.

Returning to running

If you followed our steps for immediately after the race and rested well the days following, you should be able to return to running 1-2 weeks after the marathon.

  • Pain means pause: Only when you have no muscle soreness or pain should you start running again. If not, you are putting even more strain on already damaged muscles.
  • Ease your way in: Push yourself too hard at the beginning and you’ll do your body more damage than good. Easy 3-8km runs with little effort are a good way to get back into your rhythm. You can increase as you go, but always start smooth and steady.

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Recovery is the secret ingredient many miss out on or underestimate. It restores your body and refreshes your mind. Give your body a well-deserved time out and it will come back faster, stronger and ready to perform even better next time.

Suffering from aches and pains that don’t seem to get better? We always advise you to visit your doctor or sports orthopedic. Better safe than sorry.